May 28, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I recently posted a question on a religious social group on Facebook:

“Should newlyweds write thank you notes for wedding/engagement gifts? I grew up with this being an obvious ‘yes’ about expectation of הכרת הטוב. But we find significantly more than half the young couples here do not formally acknowledge gifts… Thoughts?”

In truth, I wanted to expand my question to the other side of the coin, but was initially afraid. My fears were doused, as some of the 20-plus respondents commented on this as well:

“Why are so many people who attend weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and other simchot not giving a present to the celebrant? (Disclaimer: I personally would exempt from this expectation pulpit rabbis and rebbeim, who are invited almost weekly to a simcha.)”

Among the replies, several stood out. Here are but a few:

“If anyone can stop what they are doing and reserve a night to attend the wedding and give a gift, then I can’t understand why a young couple can’t find the time to write thank-you notes.”

Another scribed a thoughtful and lengthy response that chastised the impersonal nature of today’s gift-giving and, at best, generic reply. “With gift giving being the way it is, are we really surprised that couples are not scrupulous to write thank you notes? There is a feigned feeling of gratitude on both sides.”

What is profound to me is that we, Jews, begin our by saying, “Thank you”—מודה אני לפניך. As soon as our eyes open, we thank God for restoring our soul and granting us another moment of life.

When it comes to our relationship with the divine, our sages instituted a brilliant structure, insuring gratitude as a centerpiece of life:

100 blessings daily (Menachot 43B)

Blessings after (and before) consuming food as commanded in the Torah (Devarim 8:10): ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ד’ אלוקיך על הארץ הטבה אשר נתן לך

The admonition against excessive self-confidence at the expense of God’s role in our lives (Devarim 8:17-18):

ואמרת בלבבך כחי ועצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה. וזכרת את ד’ אלוקיך כי הוא הנתן לך כח לעשות חיל— “That as the Jewish people achieve greater material success, they will view it as their own accomplishments and fail to recognize God for giving them the ability to achieve.”

The flipside of gratitude is selfishness, a trait portrayed at its extreme by Nabal—husband of Avigayil and who shuns a famished David (not-yet king) and his entourage despite Nabal’s excessive life of plenty. His stinginess is magnified, as it comes after David’s legion provided welfare to Nabal’s workers and staff.

David’s response to the ignominy is powerful: ויאמר דוד לאנשיו חגרו איש את חרבו

David is prepared to wipe out Nabal and all his possessions for the slight, (Samuel I, chapter 25). It is only through Avigayil’s intervention and appreciation via a generous food offering, that the onslaught is averted.

While that situation is obviously extreme, the lesson is clear: The importance of extending not only kindness—but of demonstrating appreciation in a tangible way—is sacred in our religion.

As one of the Facebook respondents replied to my original question: “Hakaras hatov never goes ‘out of style.’” Amen!


Mitch Morrison is a journalist and resides in Passaic. He is an occasional contributor to The Jewish Link.

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