April 14, 2024
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How much in life do we take for granted? How often do we say “thank you” or otherwise express our gratitude? Our traditions in Judaism and our lessons from the Tanach give us a fascinating lesson in the value of showing gratitude.

There’s a customary minhag to feed the birds on Shabbat Shira. This custom is based on a midrash that centers around the rebellious Dattan and Aviram, who tried to undermine Moshe in the desert. When the manna fell, Moshe instructed the Jewish people to collect double portions on Friday. He cautioned that no manna would fall on Shabbat morning and that they should not go out to try and collect it. Dattan and Aviram secretly put out their own extra manna in an effort to undermine Moshe and make him look like a liar and a false prophet. In order to protect Moshe’s integrity, the birds came and ate up this falsely planted manna. In order to show gratitude to the birds, we reward them to this very day by putting out bread crumbs and food for them on Shabbat Shira.

Rav Hershel Schachter quotes the Magen Avraham in saying that normally, it would not be permissible to feed wildlife on Shabbat. However, the obligation to show “hakarat hatov,” sincere gratitude, is such a powerful mitzvah that we override any objections and make an exception on this particular memorial day.

If we need to show gratitude to the legendary birds for what they did nearly 3,000 years ago, how much more so do we have to show gratitude to individuals in our current lives who do so much for us. This would include our spouses, our family members, our friends, our rebbeim/teachers and our mentors, all of whom we may owe a debt of gratitude.

There is a biblical story that serves as an illustration of the virtue of gratitude. Jonathan, King Saul’s son, and David, the future king, were best of friends. They swore eternal loyalty to one another and to their future generations. Unfortunately, Jonathan was killed in the Battle of Mount Gilboa, along with his father. Jonathan had a five-year-old son, named Mephiboshet. When word came that King Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle, Mephiboshet’s nurse picked him up and fled, in order to save him. In the rush to flee, she dropped him. He fell and broke his legs. He was lame forever afterwards and lived in the shadows to avoid persecution (2 Samuel 4:4.)

Years afterwards, King David remembered his pledge to Jonathan and his future offspring. He sent his aides to seek out Mephiboshet and restore the family fortune to him. He sat Mephiboshet at the king’s table and treated him like royalty from that point forward. This was all done in gratitude for his friendship with Jonathan, Mephiboshet’s father (2 Samuel 9:3.)

Rav Avigdor Miller points out that we owe an even greater degree of gratitude to Hashem than we do to people. People come and go. “They are only dreams, shadows that pass in the night. Sooner or later everyone disappears. The only one that remains is Hashem.” Realizing how Hashem partners with us in this world and is the force behind much of our success and blessings, we need to be grateful to him even more so.

So, next time we are the recipients of a kindness, whether it be a spouse treating us in a loving way, an employer giving us the opportunity to work and earn money, or even a friend giving us a ride to the airport, we need to be appreciative. Waking up every day with our health intact or having a stable and reliable lifestyle is something we need to be grateful to Hashem for providing. We cannot take anything for granted. After all, gratitude is not only for the birds.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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