דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום
The ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness and all its pathways are peace.
Last time I discussed the value of learning to perform the steps in a pleasant manner. We focused on the obligation for us all to act in ways that create a Kiddush Hashem. This means that we behave in such a way that observers would spontaneously think, “That is a Jew. Look how special is his behavior!” This often occurs when we act lifnim mishurat hadin, or doing the better-than-right thing. This time we direct our attention to a related concept of pleasantness: the trait of gratitude.
Hakarat Hatov (Gratitude Is an Attitude)
When our children are very young, one of the first things we teach them is the daily Modeh Ani prayer: “I give thanks to You, Hashem, for returning my soul within me with compassion…” As they get older we teach them the birchot hashachar (morning blessings), when we thank Hashem for, among other things, our sight, our clothing, our freedom and even our ability to stand straight. As we internalize the trait of gratitude as part of our character, we gain a growing recognition of Hashem’s goodness.
Two stories in the Torah help us better understand the trait of gratitude. When our matriarch Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she named him Yehuda, a name derived from the Hebrew word for being thankful. The question is asked, wasn’t she grateful for her three other sons? Why did she wait to express her feelings of appreciation now? Aware that there would be 12 tribes, the four matriarchs understood prophetically that they would each have three sons. When Leah had a fourth child, she knew that she had exceeded her allotted share and therefore expressed her special gratitude for Hashem’s goodness.
The second story relates to Moshe Rabeinu, who was hidden on the Nile River so that he would not be drowned by the Egyptians. Later on, during the first plague, when Hashem was about to turn the river into blood, Moshe told his brother Aharon to stretch forth his rod in his place. We are taught by Chazal that the reason for this is that Moshe had a sense of hakarat hatov for the very river that saved him, and Hashem knew that he would be reluctant to smite the water.
The Torah teaches us a remarkable lesson from this episode.
We may even have a sense of gratitude for inanimate objects. All the more reason that we must be appreciative and grateful to all the helpful people we interact with on a daily basis. It is this daily recognition of the good that is done for us that is the essence of hakarat hatov.
A Story of Both Hakarat Hatov And Kiddush Hashem
Another Rabbi Pesach Krohn story:
Rabbi Krohn was in an airline terminal and was seated at the very last gate awaiting his flight. He suddenly noticed that everyone around him was looking back toward the security area. He then saw two security officers approaching, apparently looking for someone. As they drew closer and closer to him, feeling very self-conscious, he stood and asked, “May I help you, officers?” One of the guards then held out a cell phone and asked if it belonged to him. Rabbi Krohn checked carefully, and sure enough his phone was missing. When he realized the phone was his, they told him that he had left it in one of the security bins. He thanked them profusely and told them how much time they had saved him from having to replace and reprogram all of his information.
He then asked them how they knew the phone was his, thinking they recognized him by his rabbinic garb. Their answer amazed him: “Because you were the only one to say ‘thank you’ to both of us when you passed through the security check. We would have looked everywhere until we found you.”
What We Learn From the Story
Rabbi Krohn realized that while many thousands of people pass through security, few if any of them ever thank the security officers. He felt that it was important to let them know that their work was appreciated. As someone clearly identified as a Jew by both the security officers and the nearby passengers, Rabbi Krohn was proud that they appreciated his noteworthy conduct.
The Five Steps of Gratitude*
1. Recognize all the good that you possess.
2. Acknowledge that everything you have is a gift, not something you are entitled to.
3. Recognize the person who provided you with this gift.
4. Recognize that the ultimate source is Hashem.
5. Express your thanks.
*Based on an article courtesy of www.Aish.com.
An interesting thought: It’s not the challah you are grateful for; it’s really the mommy or bubby who baked it.
Another interesting thought: Can you think of the people you know who express their gratitude whenever they have the opportunity? Aren’t these people also unfailingly pleasant?
A Special Message to Parents: Learning to See the Good
In a related topic, we as adults often carelessly share our upsets, disappointments, anger and displeasure in the presence of our children. Have you at times found yourself speaking disparagingly or dejectedly at the dinner table regarding the state of the world, the situation in Israel or events in your community? While adults may understand that these exercises are release valves for our frustrations, our children take our pronouncements very seriously. This can sometimes leave them confused and frightened. It is therefore our responsibility to consider the sensitivities of our children when they are present during adult conversation and to make sure that “seeing the bad” is balanced by “seeing the good.” For example, when our children hear about people in our own communities who have suffered financial or personal hardships or illness, are they also made aware of the myriad of chesed initiatives and programs that will swiftly and compassionately respond to alleviate the suffering?
Learning to “see the good” is a skill that both adults and children should acquire. We must be especially attentive to recognize the many opportunities we have to teach and to train our children to see the good that Hashem blesses us with each day. Let us strive to be that person about whom others will say, “He would rather light a candle than curse the darkness.”
People who “see the good” are almost always unfailingly pleasant.
Stanley Fischman has been a yeshiva elementary school principal for 35 years. Most recently he was the director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. He recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating young Jewish children. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood: How to Help Your Child become a Mentsch.”