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Friday, November 24, 2017 / 7 Kislev 5778
Light Shabbat candles at 5:03 p.m.

Rabbi Sharfman
Dear Congregation Kehillah and Friends,
Our Torah portion for this week is full of dreams and visions. Vayeitze is the story of Jacob's journey, leaving his parents' home and traveling to live with his Uncle Laban, and the years in Haran until beginning his journey back home, this time, as the husband of Leah and Rachel and father of 12. Enroute to Haran, a frightened and very alone Jacob dreams of a ladder extending from heaven to earth. Jacob awoke from his sleep and exclaimed, "Surely God was in this place and I did not know it"
A kavannah/intention upon lighting the candles for Shabbat Vayeitze 
May my prayers and actions help to link heaven and earth, making me ever aware of the presence of the Divine, knowing that we are not alone!
Please continue to read below for articles/thoughts on Thanksgiving-related topics (including discussion topics and prayers for your tables).
Make Thanks-giving into a call to action, a verb! As we gather around our Thanksgiving tables, consider not just what you are grateful for, but how your gratitude might inspire you to give; consider what gifts you have yet to share with the world and how they might be used to help others and develop an action plan as a true expression of your gratitude and acknowledgement of the blessing in your life.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Ha-hoda'yah Sameach/Happy Day of Gratitude,
Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman 

"Take stock of our many blessings each and every day"

Most of us learned the background of Thanksgiving in school  - how the Pilgrims came to this country for religious freedom, survived a harsh first winter with the help of Squanto and the Native Americans around Plimoth Plantation, and then, in gratitude, celebrated a three-day harvest feast with their Native American friends. Later scholarship has taught us that while their impulse for religious freedom was strong, it was limited to their own and did not extend to others (hence, the founding of Providence Plantation under Roger Williams).
The Puritans (from England) regarded themselves as Hebraists and even sought to model the Magna Carta in that image. The religion they imported to America was based on a strict, literal read of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, both of which they knew well. A source of information for us is William Bradford, who became the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony and referred heavily to the Bible in governance. In his History of Plymouth Plantation, he wrote of a strong desire to learn Hebrew so he could study "that most ancient language and holy tongue, in which the Law and the oracles of God were written and in which God and angels spoke to the holy patriarchs of old time..."
Knowing the Bible well, they also knew about the 'Feast of Tabernacles', which we call Sukkot. While they were not attempting to create Sukkot with the first Thanksgiving, there are strong parallels. The Pilgrims saw themselves as new Israelites in a new 'promised land' (America); they called their colony 'Little Israel' and found inspiration in the commandments to observe Sukkot, a time of rejoicing during the fall harvest. Some even saw Governor Bradford as Moses, leading their people away from oppression (England) to freedom. Rejoicing at their harvest was a natural response for them, as it was for our ancestors at Sukkot.
Both Sukkot and Thanksgiving are powerful reminders for us to take stock of our many blessings each and every day.
If we're truly grateful, it's not enough just to feel it or say it...let's act on it by providing for others what they cannot provide for themselves.

A practice idea by Tsafi Lev  
The human trait of Hakarat HaTov, literally "noticing the good" but often translated as gratitude, is a perfect character trait to find within us and to continue to cultivate more of, especially the week of Thanksgiving.
In the Passover Haggadah we are reminded of the word Dayenu, "it would have been enough." This song is based on a Psalm that reminds the Jewish People: If God had only taken us out of slavery it would have been enough. If God only gave us the Torah, that would have been enough. But there was more. We were given the Land of Israel, the Shabbat, the Holy Temple, holidays to celebrate, food to eat, drink to quench our thrust. Any one thing would have been enough of a gift, but in fact we have so much!
In developing our gratitude it is helpful to be "grateful for the partial". So often we have a fine day until X, or Y, or Z happens, and then suddenly we forget all the perfectly fine things that happened. Hakarat HaTov, noticing the good, reminds us to accept the good as genuinely good, and not let the negative in our life so easily overshadow the positive. As it turns out, our brains are wired to notice unpleasant threatening stimulus, but we can also notice the good.
I once heard a story of a Spanish sea captain who would put on his reading glasses every time he ate strawberries.
"Why do you do that?" his crew finally asked.
The captain replied, "I love strawberries. The difficult things in life always seem bigger than they really are, so I wanted the good things to appear bigger too."

By writer and entrepreneur Jamie Rubin, from kveller.com
(a really good parenting resource)  
Sukkot may be the holiday when I de-clutter and get things out of my life, but on Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, I make sure to pay attention to my stuff.
We are at the start of the season when every store, television commercial, and radio jingle  reminds us that we are supposed to let other people know how much we appreciate them... by buying them things. I'm not against the occasional Hanukkah present for my kids or tipping some of the hardworking and often underappreciated people in my life during the holiday season, but this year I am trying to focus on what I have and appreciating how lucky I am before I add to my collection of "things." And I'm making my family join me.
I read recently that writing down what you're grateful for every day can be transformative. In addition to cultivating an ongoing sense of gratitude and respect for our belongings and privileges, apparently the practice of putting pen to paper while thinking of how grateful we are can also lead to higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy throughout the day. That sounds pretty good to me.
While I've read a lot in the past year about the benefits of practicing mindfulness and gratitude, it's not always clear how to integrate both into a busy family life. So this month I decided to try out a "Gratitude Jar" with my family. A parenting expert I know gave me the idea - it's supposed to help a family collectively write down what everyone is grateful for and share the results with one another. I'm also secretly hoping it helps open my kids' eyes to just how lucky they are in a season when they are encouraged to expect (and sometimes demand) new and exciting things despite the fact that all of their needs are more than met year round. Of course my husband and I could use a good reminder of that, too.
One morning at the beginning of November, I simply placed an empty jar on the breakfast table labeled "Family Gratitude Jar" with instructions to write down something you are grateful for at least once a day and place it in the jar. I added that we will read all of the notes together on Thanksgiving and gave the example that I was grateful my daughter Jesse had a good doctor's visit the day before and is healthy.
My family didn't skip a beat or even ask questions when they saw the jar. We've just been writing things down every morning. The jar is now more than halfway full. We usually write something down at breakfast time but lately I've been going to the jar whenever the mood strikes, often multiple times a day. I've found that I often go to the jar when I'm upset about something. It's a good coping strategy and helps to move my mood away from the problem I've just faced or the argument I've just had, to a place of thankfulness for the other parts of my life that are going smoothly.
While I never have a problem coming up with something to be grateful for in the morning, I now challenge myself to look beyond the things that first come to mind - like food or health or family - and think about the specifics. For example, I love that I have a place to call home but more specifically, I am so glad that I have my kitchen. Just looking at it makes me happy because it's bright and cheery and I love that I have the privilege of cooking for my family in such a well-equipped space. Sometimes I wish I lived in a bigger house or a different neighborhood but when I look around at my kitchen, I realize how lucky I am to have this space. It reminded me of a piece I read this summer from a mom-blogger who gave her kitchen a gratitude makeover. It didn't cost her a thing.
Technically we aren't supposed to read what's in the Gratitude Jar until Thanksgiving, but for the purposes of this piece, I decided to sneak a peek at just a handful. It warmed my heart to read that my 6-year-old is grateful for her school, her sister, and for pumpkin yogurt. I loved learning that my husband is grateful for my contributions to our family.
In the past I've always spent a lot of time during the holidays thinking about all of the things I want. And maybe this year I will find time to put together a list, but so far I'm really enjoying the gift of appreciating what I have.

A blessing for your Thanksgiving table, from Rabbi Naomi Levy:
For the laughter of the children,
For my own life breath,
For the abundance of food on this table,
For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast,
For the roof over our heads,
The clothes on our backs,
For our health,
And our wealth of blessings,
For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends,
For the freedom to pray these words
Without fear,
In any language,
In any faith,
In this great country,
Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.
Thank You, God, for giving us all these. Amen.  

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