Just last week I was looking through my text messages and saw a sequence from my mother-in- law, Rebbetzin Singer, a”h. She was thanking me for telling her what time Shabbos candle lighting was when she was in the hospital and for picking up some groceries for her. This past week, the 20th of Kislev, was her second yahrzeit. I remember her for always expressing gratitude for the simple things done for her, even items that were expected and routine. Gratitude was part of her inner core.
The Hebrew word “to thank” is l’hodos. The same root of the word modeh, to admit. Rav Hutner explains that these two words are one and the same. A person will only be thankful when he recognizes and admits he received something of value. The Hebrew term for expressing gratitude is hakaras hatov—recognizing the good. That’s where it all starts. Once one recognizes he is a beneficiary, especially of Hashem’s many blessings, then he will express his thanks almost automatically. In addition, one should be aware and take appropriate responsibility in any given situation so that his actions will reflect the inner core of goodness Hashem gave him.
In Parshas Vayeishev we see this quality of recognizing and accepting responsibility illustrated in the episode of Yehuda with his daughter-in-law Tamar, who had lost her husband. Tamar told Yehuda, “Haker na,” please recognize the owner of these articles. Yehuda could have remained quiet, but instead he admitted his role publicly, causing himself considerable shame, and acknowledging that Tamar’s actions were appropriate since Yehuda failed to give another of his sons to Tamar after her husband died. This was a pivotal moment for Yehuda. Earlier in the parsha he failed in his role as leader when his brothers decided to throw Yosef in the pit and Yehuda said nothing to dissuade them. It was then that he lost his leadership role and left the brothers to go into exile. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explains that in the incident with Tamar, Yehuda was challenged in precisely the same way, but this time he spoke up to do what was right by acknowledging his responsibility. After this episode, Yehuda returned home and was accepted once again as the leader of the brothers. A part of his reward for his action was that King David was one of his descendants.
This Sunday night begins Chanukah. Although Chanukah commemorates events that took place during a fierce battle between the Greeks and the Jews, the real war was about ideas. The Greeks (Yevanim) wanted us to join in their culture and lifestyle. They were descendants of Yafes (son of Noach). Yafes means beauty, which defined the Greek culture—known for its beauty pageants, sculptures and magnificent architecture.
The Greeks defiled the Beis Hamikdash with their actions, but they left the beautiful building untouched. For klal Yisrael, a Beis Hamikdash without its kedusha (holiness) is like a lifeless body, a person without a soul, or a wedding hall without a chasan and kallah. It’s the kedusha that makes the Beis Hamikdash magnificent. Greece was about the external.
The Torah view is that true beauty comes from within and radiates outward. The Hebrew word for this beauty is hod, which is the same gematria as yud plus hei, which is Hashem. When a person recognizes the Godliness inside himself, his actions shine outwardly. The radiance of the Beis Hamikdash stems from its
The days of Chanukah are designated as a time of thanks to Hashem, as we say in the paragraph B’yimei Chashmonaim that we insert in Shemoneh Esrei and Birkas Hamazon. Why this focus? Simply put, it’s to repair a wrong. During the time of the Greeks, many Jews had become lax in their observance. The Bach explains that Jews at that time went through the motions of Torah observance but lacked inner enthusiasm and drive. After all, the Greek ways were compelling to many. Their outer shell was attractive. But the small Jewish group of dedicated Chashmonaim fiercely fought the proud Greek army to preserve the Torah and mitzvos, which many had come to take for granted. Their Jewish brothers then realized that the Greek outer shell was hollow on the inside; only the Torah and its mitzvos give life meaning and direction. The Jews realized they had not been thankful for that gift and changed their attitude. Re-engaging with the concept of gratitude to a higher being, alien to the Greeks, returned the Bnei Yisrael to their spiritual ways, recognizing anew that true beauty is within and causing them to again shine outwardly.
I want to extend my own thanks to all those who contributed and participated in our yeshiva dinner campaign and made it such a success. You gave me and the entire yeshiva tremendous encouragement. May you all be showered with bracha and hatzlacha. We look forward to another year of quality Torah learning. Feel free to call me, anytime, to help you find a learning program that’s right for you!
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a multi-level Gemara-learning program. Recently he has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis midrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. His email is [email protected]