In 1621 the Plymouth colonists in America and the Wampanoag Indians wanted to thank G-d for a successful harvest. They organized what became known later as the first Thanksgiving celebration. Eventually it became a fixture on the calender and on the fourth Thursday in November, Americans sit down to their annual Thanksgiving dinner. The traditional menu, I’m told, consists of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Thanking G-d is always a good idea but in America it seems that this is the season.
Here in Eretz Yisroel, we have multiple reasons for thanking Hashem particularly at the moment. The first reason is the positive side of horrendous fires which damaged thousands of properties and caused widespread panic to huge numbers of people. This week it rained, which we will come back to later, but last week the trees were dry from months of sunshine and there was a strong wind. Many, if not all the fires were deliberately caused by Arab arsonists. It has been called the pogrom of 5777. Seventy-five thousand people were forced to leave their homes in Haifa. At Neve Tzuf, a moshav in the Shomron, a Molotov cocktail thrown over the perimeter fence on Shabbos night exploded into a fire which threatened all one thousand residents. There were also fires at Zichron Yaakov, Beit Meir and other places. Yet despite the extreme threat to the lives of many people, no-one died. Firemen fought for three days in great danger. The elderly and infirm were evacuated from hospitals and old-age homes. Children were rescued from kindergartens which were within minutes of becoming fire traps. No-one was left behind. No petrol stations caught fire nor gas balloons which provide cooking fuel to older homes to. In short, there was financial damage, some injuries caused by smoke inhalation but no deaths. Boruch Hashem for this miracle, for these many miracles.
And now it has rained. In London this is nothing to talk about, and certainly not in Manchester but in Eretz Yisroel there is no rain from the middle of May to October. Even then it is sporadic and December can still be hot and dry. We read in Krias Shema about the yoreh and malkosh, often translated by “the former rains and the latter rains.” The time of the yoreh is in Cheshvan or Kislev. The Gemoro Taanis tells when the rains should start and when the people began special tefilos and fasting if it hadn’t rained yet. The Gemoro (7b-8a) also lists several reasons why the rains might be late in arriving. One reason is that people have pledged money over the Yom Tov season but have not kept their vows. Other possible reasons for Hashem not sending rain are loshon hora, chutzpa, bitul Torah and theft. The day of rain is considered as great as the day heaven and earth were created. It is a sign that our aveiros have been forgiven. So when it started raining on Thursday evening, here in Ramat Beit Shemesh, there were shrieks of joy to be heard. It continued to rain throughout Erev Shabbos until later on Friday evening. People were glad to wear their raincoats and hat covers. On Friday morning just about every child from about the age of four proudly held their coloured umbrellas on their way to school. Other parts of Eretz Yisroel also saw record amounts of rain. It has already stopped raining with temperatures forecast to go up somewhat but this is another reason for our own thanksgiving to Hashem at the moment.
However, the main thanksgiving we feel at the moment is the result of the American elections. First, we need two introductions.
The two main candidates, as we all know, were Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Mr Trump gave a list of several policy points concerning his proposed attitude to Israel and the American Jewish community. 1. He would support Israel against Iran who are building weapons of mass destruction targeted towards Israel and Europe. 2. He does not support the idea of a Palestinian State since the Palestinians are only interested in terrorism not living in peace. 3. He would oppose the B.D.S. movement which tries its best to persuade as many countries and businesses as possible to boycott products made in Israel. 4. He wants to protect Jewish students in American colleges who are the victims of violent actions by pro-Palestinian and extreme left wing groups.
Mrs Clinton supported the agreement with Iran which, although it may have somewhat slowed their nuclear programme, allows them to become a nuclear power in a few years. She supports a Palestinian State right up to the pre-1967 lines which are considered indefensible and are known as the Auschwitz borders. She has admitted receiving into her Clinton Foundation huge sums of money given by Arab nations and terrorist supporters which were clearly intended to influence her policies. She supports the rights of any individual, no matter what his or her lifestyle, to be employed and even a religious institution (like a Jewish school) cannot refuse. An institution which refuses is liable to lose its charitable status. And her closest advisers are known to be B.D.S. supporters, the very people who try to destroy Jewish businesses and harass Jewish students at the American colleges. All the polls and expectations were that Mrs Clinton would win.
The second point of introduction is bringing up the different attitudes to the State of Israel amongst chareidi Jews. When the State of Israel was created, some Gedolim led by the Satmar Rebbe zt”l refused to have anything to do with it, to be involved in any of its institutions, to receive any funding etc. Other Gedolim like the Chazon Ish zt”l thought it correct to work within the system and fight for the rights of chareidi Jews to live according to the Torah. It is not for us, no matter who our Rebbe is, to disqualify the other opinion. Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim. (The late Gateshead Rov, zt”l once told me that Agudas Yisroel need the Neturei Karta to stop them veering). But all of those Gedolim had a great ahavas Yisroel and never wanted Jews to suffer, even Jews who did not subscribe to their opinions and even not (yet) religious Jews. However strongly one objects to the State of Israel as an institution, we should never chas vesholom support anything which would aid Israel’s enemies who, given half a chance, would happily destroy Israel together with its over six million Jewish residents. Clearly, all of us who care very much about the physical welfare of the Jews of Eretz Yisroel, preferred the more pro-Israel candidate.
This is our third “thanksgiving.” When, against all expectations, the candidate who once kissed Mrs Arafat after the latter had accused Israel of poisoning drinking water to kill Palestinian children, lost her chance to put her policies into practice, we were relieved and thankful. Certainly we need to daven every day that Mr Trump will be kind to all Jews, just as we have always davened concerning every non-Jewish ruler, but we can and should appreciate the he’oras ponim which we have been shown.
A year later, we can look back. One well know columnist argued that in view of Mr. Trump’s moral history, Jews should not vote at all. I argued to him that Jews have always voted for who is better for the Jews, personal morals notwithstanding and I wrote to two Gedolim who confirm that this is daas Torah. President Trump’s support for Israel and his recent release of Sholom Rebashkin indicate that those who voted for him, voted wisely. Our thanks is due to him but especially to Hashem for showing us this welcome he’oras panim.