A Biblical Thanksgiving Story

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to think about thanking other people for what they have done for us, or to be grateful for what we have. Thanking the other or appreciating our lot, is an essentially human thing to do.

Think about it: as much as you love your cat, does she ever say “thank you”? As much as you adore your dog, does he ever express in words gratefulness for your care of him? Even birds and rabbits and horses and iguanas do not have a way of saying thanks!

But we humans do. In every language and in every culture: Thanks, Gracias, Todah, Danke, Merci, Kansha, Efcharisties, Tak, Spasibo….

Thinking about this got me to wondering: when and where was the first “thank you”?  And, of course, as soon as I began to ponder that, I felt a midrash coming on…

Adam and Eve lived in this wonderful garden known as Eden. There was much to be thankful for in this luscious garden.

An abundance of fruit trees—apples, oranges, figs, bananas, coconuts, cumquats and more–  their ripe colorful fruit hung from the branches, between the fresh green leaves.

There were vegetables that popped up from the ground – carrots, broccoli, parsnips, brussel sprouts, cabbages and more.

There was, all in all, so much plentiful produce in the garden, always there, anywhere, anytime!

Both Adam and Eve, and all the animals that lived in the garden ate at will. Whenever they had a rumble in their tummy, they would just go take from the produce that sprung up around them.  Because the fruit and vegetables  were always there, as far back as anyone could remember, they just took it for granted that it would always be there.

Adam never said “thank you”. Eve never uttered the word “thanks.” And the animals, well, they too did not express thanksgiving for the sustenance that surrounded them.

Now, there were two trees in the garden that was forbidden for Adam and Eve and all the animals to eat from. For our story, one of them is really important.

It was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  To get why the fruit of this tree was forbidden, you have to understand that everything at the beginning of creation was “good” or “very good.” God had made it and proclaimed it so.

The danger of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was that it would cause good and evil to become all mixed up. Ugh. That would make living life so much harder, because you would have to always make a decision between being good and being bad.

Well…  you know what happens:

 A snake cajoles Eve into eating from this Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And Eve convinces Adam to eat some fruit from the same tree. Oy!

Suddenly God realizes that good and bad which was once separate in the world, is beginning to merge.

God speaks to all the animals, the doves, the zebras, the platypuses, the elephants, and all  the others, and sees that their souls remain pure. They were not the cause of good and evil coming together.

So God calls out to the people created in the garden, to Adam and Eve  — “Ayecha? Where are you? “

Adam and Eve were hiding. If it could be said, God had a sinking sort of feeling in the pit of the stomach.

Finally when God found the humans, they suddenly seemed to know stuff! Like they had no clothes on —  and they found that embarrassing.  Adam blamed Eve for their misbehavior rather than taking responsibility for his own actions. Eve blamed the snake rather than admitting her wrongdoing.

It became really clear in God’s mind, that within the human beings, good and evil had begun to merge.  They were the source, of good and evil in this world comingling, now and forever and ever.

God determined to give them consequences for their actions. Eve and women after her would experience pain in childbirth. Adam, would have to work the land, to create food to feed humankind. And both of them  would have to leave this miraculous Garden of Eden.

Now, since good and evil were now all mixed up, good things could come out of this wrongdoing.  One of these good things, is that Adam and Eve could no longer take for granted that the food would always be there, or things would come easily for them.

Before they left the Garden of Eden forever, God taught them the word “thank you” so they could appreciate the things they had and when someone did something nice for them.

That’s why we humans have in every language and in every culture: Thanks, Gracias, Todah, Danke, Merci, Kansha, Efcharisties, Tak, Spasibo and so many other words to express our thanksgiving.

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About Rabbi Linda Joseph

I am currently serving as Interim Rabbi at Tree of Life Congregation in Columbia SC, a Reform Jewish synagogue celebrating its 120th year. I love God, Jewish traditions, creativity and texts. I enjoy teaching, prayer, community and connection. Storytelling, making art, listening to music, writing, reading and cooking are some of my passions. I am blessed each day when I get to play with my dog Ben Bag Bag and my cat Khazar.

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