Does This Make Sense?

November 28, 2013


It’s Thursday morning and my turkey was supposed to be in the oven by now. It’s not quite thawed so it’s sitting on my kitchen counter. Stuck between the leg and the carcass is a plastic bag which I can’t quite extract yet, but I’ve pulled out as much plastic as I can to remind me  to remove it before cooking my bird.

I remember all too well three years ago, when I shoved a late night turkey into the oven for Passover, only to discover post-production that  I had cooked it along with the liver (that’s what’s in the bag), rendering my turkey and my oven treif.  Totally non-kosher. Fortunately I had made the bird in a disposable pan or my pan would have been treif, too. To top things off, as I was trying to dispose of this not-for-Passover, not-for-anything, contaminated creature,  I lifted it out of the oven and dropped the whole mess on the floor.

Why I tell the story is because of my reaction. I laughed.

Because it was a real laugh, not one of my clenched-teeth ones. So for the price of a turkey, a floor cleaning and an oven scrubbing, I got to show G-d that I love living according to His rules. Pesach rules. Turkey rules. G-d rules.

Plus I got a story. (And I learned a lesson–you can be sure  I’m very careful to give my turkey a full body check to make sure there’s no liver hiding anywhere.)

But that turkey I’m hoping to make is not for Thanksgiving. It’s for  Shabbos, which is at 4:37 this week in Pittsburgh, shortly after breakfast. What am I thankful for on Thanksgiving? I am  thankful for the lack of distractions today–other than writing–so I  can cook most of my Shabbos meal on Thursday.

Of course, I had to shop like a fiend to do this and each cashier invariable asked, ” are you making Thanksgiving dinner?” And to each one I felt obliged to answer, “I’m Jewish. I  celebrate Thanksgiving every week.”

But since everyone’s talking about Thanksgivukkah, the miraculous calendrical convergence that is delighting American Jews everywhere, I will add my take on it.

Although it may appear to be a sign from heaven that we are meant to celebrate together as one big happy family–which would make sense, since we live in a world that has been forever filled with hatred born of differences–that one big happy family stuff, aka assimilation, is not good for the Jews.

The story of Chanukah puts a bit of a crimp into the pumpkin pie.

The whole reason behind the Maccabees’ revolt was that the Greeks forbade the supra-rational mitzvos of the Torah, known as chukim, those commandments that are intentionally beyond our understanding, that aren’t supposed to make sense ( like not cooking a turkey with the liver).

So, although it made no sense to fight  against a superior army, the Maccabees waged war; they wanted to serve G-d in all ways,  including ways that are beyond understanding.

And because they displayed a devotion to G-d that went beyond the natural order, He responded in kind by contravening the laws of nature–the oil burned miraculously for eight days instead of one.

I’ve learned a lot more about G-d and a lot more about Chanukah over the last several years. I learned that the temple that the Greeks trashed was not just a huge synagogue, but the Beis Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, where G-d performed open miracles on a daily basis. I  learned that the Jews actually found several jugs of oil when they reclaimed the Temple (capital T) but they had all been opened by the Greeks and were considered impure. Defiled. Contaminated. (Like my turkey.) I learned that they could have used the impure oil–Torah law permits it if pure oil is unavailable–but the Jews  were uncompromising.

That’s the part I like best about the holiday–the celebration of serving G-d in the purest way possible, even though it’s challenging and it makes no sense.

Celebrating Thanksgiving, on the other hand, makes sense. It’s even nice. It’s just not a mitzvah. So why would I want to eat myself into a stupor today,  especially since tomorrow, I am commanded by  G-d to keep the Sabbath, which includes not one but two festive meals,  which for me, despite my best efforts, translates into eating myself into a stupor twice a week, every week?

Thanksgiving is not only bad for my diet, it’s bad for the Maccabee in me, that part of my soul that yearns to burn free of compromise.

But, in the meantime, I am thankful to live in a country that was founded on freedom of religion.

So, thank you Pilgrims, for allowing me be a Maccabee.

Does that make sense?

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