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The Attitude of Gratitude

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Dina Schoonmaker

Hoda’ah can mean either to thank or to admit the truth. Both meaning involve a certain diminishing of the self. On a deeper level, in addition to recognizing what the other person has done for you, thanking someone means acknowledging the connection that has been formed. Giving nurtures a bond.  Chazal say that one who denies his friend’s kindness will eventually come to deny Hashem’s kindness. Thanking means admitting we owe something. For some people this is difficult.

Tosfot notes a distinction between giving tzedakah and doing chesed. The highest level of charity is when the receiver doesn’t know who gave to him and the giver doesn’t know who he’s giving to. But when one does a kindness, one should let the recipient know.  Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says if a person feeds a baby a piece of bread when the mother isn't  there, he should let the mother know. Rashi says he should pin a sign on the child and when the mother asks him, “Who put this on you?” the child will tell her and also mention the bread. Acts of chesed increases love and friendship among the Jewish people.  

Let people know you care about them. Tell them how you especially bought or fixed something for them. Some people like giving and don’t want to receive. They want to maintain a position of superiority. But there has to be a balance in the relationship so that the receiver can retain his dignity. If you’re about to do someone a big favor, ask them for a small kindness in return. Give them a chance to reciprocate. Doing acts of kindness and giving people the opportunity to express gratitude enhances  achdut within klal Yisrael.

We learn that the very act of appreciation changes a person. Why is it so hard for us to express gratitude? Rav Wolbe explains that when a baby is born, he does not have full cognition. If he’d realize how dependent he was on others, he’d be full of appreciation. We tend to develop the attitude of 'magiah li', 'I deserve it,' and that manifests itself in a lack of thankfulness. If the bus comes on time, it’s the driver’s job.  If the mail gets picked up, that’s expected. Even if someone gets paid for what they’re doing, he’s still making your life pleasant and he deserves your gratitude. Expressing appreciation instills in people the desire to continue giving and this makes the world a more pleasant and beautiful place.

Our avodah is to constantly focus on the good. We owe our biggest hakarat hatov to Hashem. Yet man’s inherent nature is to deny His kindness because it’s hard to feel subjugated. When we appreciate what Hashem has given us, we’re not just taking in what He offers us, but creating a special relationship with Him.  Gratitude breeds happiness. It helps a person cope with trauma and stress, eliminates jealousy and comparison, and nurtures good will and hope. Even negative circumstances can be viewed as a kindness. Challenges and trials propel us to grow and bring us to higher levels.  We can work to feel gratitude for all the good Hashem has given us and continues to give us. This in turn will foster happiness, appreciation for others, and a closer connection with Hashem.



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