“Hakaros Hatov” is the Hebrew phrase meaning “recognizing the good”. This is such a fundamental concept in Judaism, that the word for Jew in Hebrew is “yehudi” which stems from the word “lehodot”— “to thank”. Loosely translated, then, the word “Yehudi” is “one who thanks”. Being Jewish, then, takes on an entirely different meaning when seen in light of the Torah’s concept of what the essence of a Jew is. Appreciating the good given to you, thanking the good done for you, and never forgetting a favor done on your behalf, is part and parcel of being a high-quality human being.
Moshe Rabbenu, our humble, caring, quintessential Jewish leader epitomizes the depth of “recognizing the good” in all things. As a leader, he never forgot any good that was done for him, even if the object was inanimate. When it came to instigating the terrible plagues that arrived in the Land of Egypt, to punish the Egyptians for their cruel behavior towards the Jews, he could not bring himself to hit the Nile River, so that it would change to blood. He could not bring himself to bring forth frogs and lice from the earth, and therefore asked his brother Aharon to bring about these plagues. Why was this so? He had once been saved by the Nile River, where his basket drifted peacefully into the hands of the Pharaoh’ daughter, and she brought him to the palace to raise him; he had once been protected by the availability of earth, to bury an abusive, cruel Egyptian whom he had killed in order to save his fellow Jews.
Gratitude is one of the pillars of a humane society. Appreciating what others have done for us is a character trait that children learn almost exclusively in our homes. There is much unnecessary insensitivity and cruelty in the greater world around us. Every moral human being veers away from these traits. Yet, without replacing these traits with an opposing force, these can become a natural part of a society’s mores. Gratitude is that opposing force. Being grateful to the cat that kills mice and rats in one’s backyard; being grateful for the trees that shade us in the park. And in fact, in Jewish law these translate into commandments—one may not purposely hurt an animal, one may not cut into a tree just for fun. Being grateful to human beings is even more complex. To the neighbor who has bad manners, but always lends a hand when asked; to the teacher who taught us wisdom, when we were too young to appreciate it. When we show gratitude in our personal lives, our children learn to follow suit. It is so kind, it is so sweet, and it is part of being Jewish.
THIS WEEK: Using the phrase “thank you” is a powerful beginning to seeing the good in the world. Thanking our children for the simple tasks they do (removing a plate from the table), thanking G-d (even out loud) for having children in the house, being thankful for the rain which revitalizes life in the world—all these make children thankful that you are their parents.