By Rabbi Yehuda
Director of Chabad of Yorktown
"Happy Thanksgivukkah!" many have quipped, referring to the rare occurrence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving overlapping this year. Some even say that it has never happened before in history. Well, that's not exactly right, but pretty close to it. Thanksgiving was declared a national American holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, about 2,000 years after Chanukah was declared a national Jewish holiday. In 1888, the two overlapped for the first time. They also coincided in 1899, eleven years later, and in 1918, nineteen years later. But since that year, there's been no overlapping at all, despite the fact that Chanukah is 8 nights long and presents 8 such opportunities! Finally, in our very own 2013 holiday season, 95 years later, history is repeating itself. Took a while! And it will take until 2070 for the occurrence to repeat itself again.
Turns out, Chanukah and Thanksgiving have far more in common than a calendar date. Let's discuss the meaning behind these holidays for a moment. Chanukah was established by the Jewish Sages over 21 centuries ago to commemorate the victory of the miniscule Jewish army over the mighty Syrian Greek army who sought to deny them their religious freedom. G-d miraculously brought salvation to the Jews and they were able to drive the Greeks away and reclaim their Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Not only that, but although they only found one cruse of olive oil to kindle the Temple's menorah, miraculously, the oil lasted eight days until new oil could be produced under ritually pure conditions. Thus the holiday was established to give thanks to G-d "for the salvation, miracles, and wonders that You performed...” An emphasis is put on the fact that clearly, without the help of G-d and His guidance every step of the way, the Jews could not have been victorious. Indeed, it is G-d's help and guidance that every person in every generation is completely dependent on.
Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated for similar reasons. When the original settlers landed on the shores of America, they had much to be thankful for: a good harvest, military victory, religious freedom, and others. These are some of the reasons Thanksgiving was first celebrated. During the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national day of "Thanksgiving." In his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation, he wrote: " The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings... which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty G-d... It has seemed to me fit... to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father ..."
So when these holidays come along, and certainly when they coincide, how appropriate for each of us to take a moment to reflect upon the presence of G-d in each of our lives, and to recognize His interest in the details of the world and in man's mortal actions. G-d not only created the world, but also directs the events within it, each and every moment. As President Lincoln wrote, it is human nature to become oblivious to His constant presence, since He clothes himself in nature. When miracles occur, they remind us of His presence and of the fact that He was there all along, even when things seemed to be running their course without Him.
It is this faith in G-d that our country is founded upon, and this same faith which is so dear to every society, as it keeps its citizens G-d-fearing, and therefore moral and ethical.