Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for many of us in America. And though it’s associated with its American roots, it has a surprising amount of parallels to Israel and the Jewish people.
This week Chris shares a lengthy list of connections between the Jewish people and Thanksgiving that you’ve probably never considered. Whether through the way the Pilgrims compared themselves to the Jewish people, the nature of thankfulness and blessings in Jewish culture, or the similarities between Thanksgiving and Sukkot, Jewish identity is written all over our American holiday.
We find a clearer parallel to Thanksgiving in the todah, or thanks, offering. And, ultimately, we find a beautiful truth about God’s desire to have a true relationship with us through His thanksgiving laws for Israel. Take some time this Thanksgiving weekend to learn why thankfulness is so important to Christians and Jewish people, and discover the beauty of saying “thank you” to God in every circumstance!
Steve Conover: Welcome to the Friends of Israel today. I'm Steve Conover with me as our host and teacher Chris Katulka, and we're really glad you chose to be with us today. Everything related to today's program, every previous episode, can all be found at foiradio.org. It's there you'll find trustworthy and accurate news on Israel and the Middle East, and while you're there, you can support our ministry by clicking on the Donate button and helping us continue to teach biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah. Once again, that's foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: I really hope all of our listeners had a fantastic Thanksgiving. I hope that you're filled up on turkey. I hope that tryptophan has gone away though so you can stay awake as you listen to the program. We're actually going to be talking about Thanksgiving this weekend as we look at the unique connection between Judaism, the Jewishness of the Bible, and how it connects to even the modern day Thanksgiving that we celebrate today. And then we're also going to look at some scriptures and talk about the idea of really the original Thanksgiving, an offering that goes back to Leviticus 7 called the thanks offering, the todah offering.
Steve Conover: But first in the news, Florida governor Ron DeSantis recently addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition where he said the West Bank was not occupied territory but rather a disputed area that is the historical homeland to the Jewish people. In his 25 minute speech, he promised to continue supporting the state of Israel and vowed to prevent Florida campuses from becoming hotbeds of antisemitism like they have all across the country.
Chris Katulka: Well, here's my take. DeSantis is right. The West Bank is not occupied territory. You can't occupy something that no one had control of to begin with. The Florida Governor is the real deal when it comes to supporting Israel and the Jewish people know it. That's why he won the highest share of the Jewish vote for any Republican candidate in Florida history.
Chris Katulka: Happy Thanksgiving everyone. A few years ago I did a program on the meaning of Thanksgiving that goes back to the book of Leviticus. Moses mentioned in Leviticus 7, a Thanksgiving offering, a todah offering as it's called. It was an offering to the Lord by the worshiper that was meant to give thanks. It was actually a free will offering. God never wanted an Israelite worshiper giving thanks to him out of volition. God wanted the Thanksgiving Offering to come from the heart and we're going to talk more about the Thanksgiving Offering after the break because I want to show you how the Jewish people from the Old Testament thought about the Todah offering as it was called.
First, as we enter Thanksgiving weekend, I want to focus on the history of Thanksgiving here in the United States. I want to show you the Jewish roots the pilgrims adopted as they celebrated the first Thanksgiving.
We want to ask the questions, what was going through their minds collectively as they stopped to say "thanks" to their creator for all of the blessings that he bestowed on them. There's actually a very strong historical connection between Judaism and the Thanksgiving that we find in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. The vast majority of pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving were Puritans. The Puritans originated in England during the early 1600s. They actually believe that the State Church of England, the Anglican Church, needed to be more purified of the influence of the Catholic religious faith. The Puritans believed that God had formed a unique covenant or agreement with them. They believed that God expected them to live according to the scriptures and they strongly identified with the historical traditions and customs of the Israelites in the Bible. Religious freedom was their main motive for leaving England for the new land.
They wanted to free themselves of the bondage of oppression from the English church. The Puritans saw themselves in their journey to America as equivalent to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. They considered England as Egypt. The king of England was Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean was their Red Sea, and the Puritans were the Israelites entering into a new covenant with God in a new promised land.
What's most interesting is the fact that most of the Puritans had Hebrew names themselves and there was even a proposal to make Hebrew the language of the colonies. Can you imagine that? Here's what's most interesting. Many people believe that the pilgrims modeled Thanksgiving after the Jewish Festival of Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles. Thanksgiving and the Feast of Tabernacles are both harvest festivals that take place in the fall. In Jewish tradition, the Feast of Tabernacles has a dual significance. It's both historical and agricultural.
Jewish people dwelled in booths to remember how their ancestors lived in sukkahs or booths for 40 years in the desert and God provided for their every need. However, the Torah or the first five books of Moses also refers to Sukkot as Hag Ha-Asif, the Festival of the Ingathering. At this time of the year in Israel, the harvest was ending and the final fruits and crops were gathered and stored. Sukkkot is also known as Z’man Simchateinu. The time of our rejoicing as the Israelites gave thanks for the conclusion of the harvest and the bounty of the land. And this wasn't just the bounty of wheat or barley for bread, it was the bounty of fun foods like grapes for wine, dates, olives, and more. As close readers of the Bible, the Puritans would've known about the Feast of Tabernacles, a celebration that would've encouraged them to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Rabbi Elias Lieberman once wrote, "While we cannot be certain about what motivated those pilgrim settlers to initiate a feast of Thanksgiving, it is likely that they consciously drew on a model well known to them from the Bible they cherished. Seeing themselves as new Israelites in a new promise land, the pilgrims surely found inspiration in the Bible in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in which God commands the ancient Israelites to observe the Feast of Booths or in Hebrews, Sukkot to rejoice before Adonai your God, at the time of the fall harvest. Of course, the main theme of the holiday of Thanksgiving comes from its name itself, reminding us of the importance to give thanks. To say thank you to God is embedded in Jewish culture. When a Jewish person sits down to eat, he or she would say, "Bless it are you God for bringing bread from the earth."
When you say a blessing over a bread, it affirms every aspect of how that bread came to be, that God played a role in creating the universe where the sun rises each day and the rain falls and the growth of food is even possible. You give thanks to God for those. You give thanks to God for those things. The rabbis teach that Jewish people are to say 100 blessings a day, a teaching that reminds us even as Christians, that no matter how hard life can be, we all have many blessings such as simply breathing, being alive, our health, our loved ones, and our friends. The goal of saying 100 blessings is traditionally reached by praying three times a day, plus reciting blessings before and after eating. However, the rabbis encourage the Jewish community to say a few more special blessings to acknowledge the wonders of every day.
For instance, when you see lightning, a Jewish person might say the prayer, "Blessed are you God who made the world." When you see the ocean, maybe a Jewish person would say, "Blessed are you God who made the great Sea." And upon seeing the fruit trees in bloom, one might say, "Blessed are you God who leaves nothing lacking in the world, who created good creatures and beautiful trees for the benefit of all people."
Can you see the Jewishness that's wrapped up in Thanksgiving from the historical connections of the Puritans to the Feast of Tabernacles in the law, to the primary significance of Judaism and simply saying, "Thank you to God for all of our blessings?" Thanksgiving is a holiday that is steeped in Jewish values. I mean, just listen to some of these Psalms of Thanksgiving, Psalm 7:17, "I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord the Most High."
Psalm 28:7, "The Lord is my strength and my shield. In him my heart trusts and I am helped, my heart exalts and with my song I give thanks to him." Psalm 50:14-15, "Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High and call on me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will honor me." Psalm 69:30, "I will praise the name of God with a song. I will magnify him with Thanksgiving."
That's why Jewish people on Thanksgiving might actually even say a special blessing, "Baruch ata Adonai, blessed are you, oh God, who has given us the bounty of food and the blessing of family." So when we return, I want to show you how the Thanksgiving offering from Leviticus 7 is seen all throughout the scriptures and gives us a strong basis for saying, "Thank you to our God,."
Steve Conover: Chris, it's hard to believe, but it's that time of year again. The holiday season is quickly approaching for Christians as well as our Jewish friends.
Chris Katulka: Steve, Hanukkah and Christmas are wonderful holidays where gift giving adds to the joy and since last year they were so well received, the Friends of Israel is offering holiday gift boxes that are packed with Israeli products that are certain to deliver joy to the doorstep of either your Jewish or Christian friends and we won't say anything but maybe even yourself. You can deliver joy this holiday season. Go to foi.org/giftbox to learn more about the sweet, savory and special products inside every box. Be sure to purchase a gift box for your friends and family by December 12th to ensure on time delivery. Learn how you can deliver joy. Once again, that's at foi.org/giftbox.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everybody. We're talking about Thanksgiving. We're connecting the Jewishness of the Bible, the idea of giving thanks from the Bible to how we celebrate Thanksgiving today in America. In Leviticus 7 starting in verse 12, God begins to share about another type of offering that you can give to the Lord. There's several different types. There's the allegiance offerings, there's the sin offerings, and this one is actually that we're looking at in Leviticus 7 is actually called a fellowship offering where the Israelite worshiper, the priests and God would fellowship together and eat the worshipers offering, but one type of fellowship offering is called the Todah Offering or Thanks Offering when an Israelite of his own free will would bring a sacrifice to say "Thank you," to God. First, this is the first time the word "Thank you" appears in the Bible with the thanks offering or the Todah offering.
That's what Todah means. It means thanks. But it's also one of the only sacrifices that were not required of the Israelite. God never demanded the Israelites to say "thank you." He wanted it to come from the heart. He didn't want thankfulness to be religious. He wanted it to be out of relationship. Listen to what some commentaries had to say about the Thanks Offering from Leviticus 7. Word Biblical Commentary says this, "A Thanksgiving offering is made to glorify God and to express one's love and appreciation for God's presence in the offerer's life." See, it was a tangible way of saying "thank you." It's right to always say "thank you" to God for every blessing that you have in your life, but the thanks offering required more than just words. The worshiper had to give something of value to God. Maybe he had to travel to the temple a long distance to say "thank you."
It required a sacrifice to say "thank you" to God. I like to think that when we give of our time, energies or even our financial resources, we are responding to God's goodness in our lives as a way to say "thank you" to him for all that he's given to us. The Anchor Bible Commentary says that “the Thanksgiving offering expressed a gratitude for a concrete act of divine grace.” A concrete act. That means the person would bring an offering to God to say "thank you" for something significant God did that wasn't deserved. Maybe a child was healed from sickness or there was a good harvest or the worshiper's life was spared. A concrete act of God's divine grace. The Thanks Offering was a way to say, "thank you" to God for those moments. Even the Jewish commentary on the law said, "The Todah or Thanksgiving Offering occupied a special position in the rabbinic tradition because it symbolized the pure expression of gratitude to God.
It was not obligatory, nor was it occasioned by sinfulness of guilt, nor even by the motives that induced Israelites to pledge sacrifice when confronted by danger. Do you know what this shows? This shows that God wants a true relationship with his people. Our God is a relational God and saying "thank you" is a way of showing gratitude to the one that you love, him. The Thanksgiving Offering is seen all throughout the scriptures. We read this Psalm earlier, Psalm 50:14-15, "Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High and call on me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will honor me." Or how about Psalm 95:2, "Let us come before his presence with Thanksgiving. Let us shout joyfully to him with psalms. The psalmist is saying, "Bring a Todah, a thanks offering to the presence of the Lord in the temple."
In prophecy, we see the Thanksgiving Offering. When Jeremiah writes about the coming kingdom when God will make all things new, the prophet Jeremiah writes in Jeremiah 33:11, "Once again, there will be sounds of joy and gladness and the glad celebrations of brides and grooms. Once again, people will bring their thank offering," the Todah Offering, "to the temple of the Lord and they will say, 'Give thanks to the Lord who rules over all for the Lord is good and his unfailing love lasts forever.'"
Even the rabbis from the Talmud write, "In the coming Messianic age, all sacrifices will cease, but the Thank Offering or Todah Offering will never cease. As we think about how the values of Judaism are woven into the celebration of Thanksgiving, the Thanksgiving offering is a reminder that God didn't give the Jewish people just one day to be thankful. In fact, he didn't even require them to be thankful, but thankfulness is the way to glorify God and to express our love and appreciation for his presence in our lives and act that we should do 100 times a day as the rabbis teach. In fact, one rabbi, the Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Steve Conover: Israel, on the verge of becoming a state, a teenaged Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the holy land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his Savior, his collective writings from well over 50 years of ministry continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of ZVi.
Mike Kellogg: People all around us are lonely. I have such a neighbor. He stays distant from everyone. I became burdened for him. How could I show love to him in Israel? We are not free to give out books, tracts or to speak about the Lord. Here we must first become friendly with such a person. I rack my brain trying to figure out how to do this, so I fell on my knees and asked the Lord to show me. God answered my prayer two weeks later on a beautiful Sabbath day. My family and I were walking to the center of Jerusalem where we have our prayer meeting. As we were walking, who did we meet but this poor lonely man. I suggested we walk together. I prayed silently, "Oh Lord, please help me to show him how to open his heart to you." I could not believe this obstinate man became friendly as we walked.
I asked, "Why do you act so strange? It would be easier to go to the moon than to be friends with you." He said, "You are the first person who has been friendly to me." "I am glad you feel that way. I am your friend and you can open your heart to me." He asked, "How? I do not know you well?" So I told him a little about myself and then he said, "I am alone in this world. I have been disappointed by many people in life. How can I know you will not turn against me also?" I then said to my children, "Let us sing the song from Psalm 118," and we sang, "The Lord is on my side. I will not fear." "This is a nice song," he said. Then I asked, "Do you believe in God?" "Why should I? What has he done for me?"
"Do you have a job? Are you healthy?" I asked. "Yes." "Every day you see the beauty of the world, the sunshine and the kindness of people all around you for all these things, you must thank the Lord," I said. He replied, "I never go to synagogue, so how can I pray?" I said, "You can pray anywhere. The Lord is everywhere and he can always hear your prayer." "Why did you want to befriend me?"
I said, "I saw in you what I see in everyone, the need to be saved. The Lord in his mercy has provided a way for us to be saved through his son. I and my family have been saved by his mercy and blood. He loved us before we even knew him and when we come to him in faith, he forgives and forgets our sins." He said, "I feel like I have been raised from the grave and I'm alive again. I have greater desire to live than ever before, but how can I be sure this feeling will never leave?" I told him, "You must come to the Lord in faith, then he will be your guide and show you the way to life and light."
I was so grateful for this opportunity to share God's love with this lonely man. Please pray that he will continue to seek the Lord so he might know true joy and happiness.
Chris Katulka: The impact of Zvi's life in ministry in Israel, it didn't end when he went home to be with the Lord. In fact, Zvi's legacy lives on. Our Friends of Israel ministry representatives continue to share the gospel in Jerusalem, Israel and really all throughout the world. We also serve Holocaust survivors and their families. We provide free food, medicine and clothing and we even promote the safety and security of the state of Israel and the Jewish people everywhere. So when you give to the Friends of Israel, your donation actually allows us to advance the gospel of our Messiah Jesus. You can give online by visiting foiradio.org, again, that's foiradio.org. You can click right there on our donate link. Also, be sure to let us know where you listen when you contact us.
Steve Conover: Thank you for joining us today. Next week we bring the first of two series that will out our programming for December and this year.
Chris Katulka: Yes, Steve, you know what's coming up soon is Hanukkah and Christmas. So for the first two weeks of December, we're going to talk about Hanukkah, and then for the last two weeks, we're going to look at the first Christmas, a two part series on the virgin birth, and then Isaiah 53.
Steve Conover: Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong, Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold, and I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. And I'll give you one last quick reminder to visit us at foiradio.org. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
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Apples of Gold: Why Did You Befriend Me?
Zvi became burdened for an obstinate, lonely neighbor. He asked the Lord to allow him to befriend this man. One day as Zvi was walking, he saw the man and asked if he could walk with him. Surprisingly, this man said yes! Zvi knew the man’s heart was troubled, so he shared a song of hope from Psalms. Hear how God opened the man’s heart through Zvi’s friendship to hear the truth of Scripture.
The Friends of Israel Today theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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