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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Modeh Ani – A Thank You

Over the years I always wondered why Hashem – the Master and Creator of the Universe – was so machmir – so adamant in having us mortals sing his praises and thank him all the time. From the minute we wake up till the moment we go to sleep we have to express our awareness and gratitude for literally everything that we have. We are required to acknowledge that we woke up in the morning because of Him; we thank Him for our food, our clothing – even our ability to go to the bathroom.

I would think to myself – shouldn’t Hashem be beyond this need for validation and praise. After all the need for a ‘pat on the back,’ the desire for recognition is a very human trait – why would G-d need our admiration and our tributes, especially when literally we are dust on feet.

I believe I received an answer on Shabbas Hagadol when I went to a drasha and a friend who lives in a different part of the city went to another one. When we discussed what we heard, we realized that there was a common theme – the extreme importance of hakarut hatov – acknowledgement of a service rendered. It is precisely because getting appreciation and validation is a very human need that Hashem in His wisdom, insisted that giving thanks become second nature to us. This achieved giving Him constant hakarut Hatov for what He does for us.

Showing appreciation to another for what they do for you seems to be the key to successful relationships – both at home and at work. At the drasha, it was pointed out that something as easy as opening one’s month and saying a simple thank you to a wife for doing the laundry, or to a husband for going out to work was an essential ingredient to shalom bayis. Likewise if a co-worker took on some of your work, or an employee stayed an hour later to help finish a project – it would lead to more productive and pleasant work environment if there was recognition of the person’s efforts.

And this is where Hashem’s insistence for praise and tribute comes in. The Creator of all there is does not need accolades from us mere mortals. To think He does need us to extol Him is extremely arrogant and presumptuous. What he wants from us is to get into the “habit” of expressing gratitude and appreciation because doing so leads to a happier and successful life. In His eyes we are just infants and like young children, must be trained to behave a certain way. This is best done by constant repetition. Every time a mother and her child are about to cross the street, she will admonish him/her to look both ways. After a while it becomes the child’s habit to look in both directions. Likewise, when we constantly thank Hashem for his thousands of chesseds (kindnesses) such as a giving us life and the necessary means to sustain it – like food, water, and clothing – it becomes second nature to us to do so.

Lashon hatov – praise and positive speech is a by-product of hakarut hatov. As I see it – lashon harah malicious or hurtful, or critical speech – can be practiced on two levels. One can actively “bad-mouth” somebody, denigrating some aspect of the person, or criticizing something they did, or failed to do. This is known as gossip or mudslinging. Another aspect of lashon harah is … saying nothing. Sometimes silence is not golden. Not opening your mouth and giving a compliment, recognizing a favor – in other words taking someone for granted and making them feel worthless – can cause the same feelings of hurt and rejection as actively saying something negative or critical.

Just because a wife, for example, has prepared a thousand suppers for her husband does not mean that it is something that should be expected day every day. We humans have eaten thousands upon thousand of meals – yet Hashem expects us to say a blessing of thanks each time. Hashem is teaching us that no matter how familiar or frequent something is – like a meal provided by Him and prepared by a wife or mother, it should never be taken for granted. By the time someone is 20, they have woken up over 7000 times. But each time get up we utter the Modeh Ani prayer, thanking G-d for letting us wake up to continue our lives.

G-d does not need our appreciation. But other human being do. By having us constantly thank Him, G-d is training us to getting into habit of practicing hakarut hatov with the people with whom we share our earthly space. It is the road that leads to shalom bayis and peace in general. For that reason alone, He deserves our eternal praise.

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