July 21, 2024
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Beyond Chanukah, and the Attitude of Gratitude

Although Chanukah concluded this past Monday, there are some important lessons that we may glean from it and incorporate into our daily lives. Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, that commemorates our military victory over the Syrian Greeks around 165 BCE. Two of its main themes—a few good men victorious over a large army, and a tiny amount of oil burning miraculously for eight days—are truly inspiring. Equally meaningful is the story of Judith, the military heroine of this holiday. She bravely did what had to be done and helped change the outcome of the conflict. The name Yehudit comes from the root word hoda’ah, which means thankfulness. Yehudi, or Jew, is derived from the same word. Of course, we are grateful that Hashem performed these great miracles, but how can we apply this concept of gratitude to our daily lives? If we are to take inspiration from these events, it may be necessary to remind ourselves daily that our essence as a people, as am Yisrael, is rooted in appreciation of Hashem, of our world and of our fellow man.

The attitude of gratitude may manifest itself in different ways, one of which may be the way we present ourselves outside the Jewish community—in the workplace, in the supermarket and even driving through a toll booth. When our kids were younger, they used to chuckle when each morning I pulled into the carpool lane at the George Washington Bridge toll plaza and thanked the toll-booth attendant before driving away. One of our boys asked why I bother to thank a person for simply doing his job. I told him that it was important to be grateful. I asked him to imagine what it would be like to spend his days encountering grumpy drivers caught in traffic, all the while breathing noxious fumes, while listening to the annoying beeping of horns. While the attendant was not forced to take this particular job, I can still appreciate how unpleasant it may be for him at times, and how a little gratitude goes a long way to making his day a bit more pleasant.

In my position as a kindergarten teacher at RYNJ several years back, I enjoyed showing my students by example how they could add gratitude into daily practice. Being a makon Torah, a place filled with Torah learning, the Yeshiva made cleanliness a priority. The school had an employee, Maria, whose only job was to clean the bathrooms around the school. With a large staff and growing student population, Maria had her job cut out for her since there were many restrooms to be cleaned. I was fortunate to have a restroom in my classroom, so Maria was a regular visitor. When Maria first came to our classroom in the beginning of the school year, I introduced her to my students. I told them about her important job of making sure we had a clean bathroom and a healthful environment. Every day, the class rose to greet Maria when she entered the classroom, and then thanked her when she left. On their own, my students greeted Maria cordially when they saw her in the hallway as we headed to different activities. Teaching children the importance of gratitude is something they learn by example and practice. Gratitude then becomes second nature and, in small but important ways, the world becomes a brighter place.

Performing mitzvot ben adam l’chavero, good deeds between people, is part of being a mentsch. Thanking people—the valet at the parking lot, the cashier at the supermarket and the waiter at a restaurant—those who provide a service, albeit a brief service for us, takes nothing from us, yet doing so may leave a positive and lasting impression on that person. Remembering the thankfulness part of our essence as Jews is truly a Kiddush Hashem. In light of the recent horrors in Israel and around the world, it is important for each of us to be an ambassador for Judaism in our own way, and to show the world what a kind and gracious people we are. It is also a lesson which perpetuates itself when observed by family, friends and anyone else with whom we interact. It takes but a moment to be appreciative. May we keep the image of the Chanukah lights dear to us, to remind us to renew our commitment to being a light among the nations and to use that light to brighten someone’s day!

By Sariva Sklar

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