One of the subjects I was taught as a young child in school was Tefillah. Since we spoke only Ivrit during our Limudei Kodesh and secular Hebrew studies – literature, creative writing and Jewish history – we pretty much understood the words we were davening.
I thus became aware at an early age that a great majority of our prayers involve thanking Hashem, and praising Him for what we acknowledge is the plethora of kindnesses and benefits we experience on a daily basis.
It seems we thank Him constantly. Every commonplace action – eating or going to the bathroom – comes connected to a “Baruch Ata Hashem.”
As I got older, I began to wonder why G-d needed so much praise and appreciation. After all, I thought to myself, He isn’t human – why did he seemingly need to have His “ego stroked”- so to speak – why the constant “pats on the back” and verbal affirmation about how great and kind He is, especially from non-entities like us.
And it’s not like it’s voluntary. We are required to express our gratitude!
Why is the Creator of the Universe so adamant that we insignificant mortals sing His praises from the minute we wake up until the moment we go to sleep?
Wouldn’t it be enough to say one bracha in the morning, “Thank you for everything” and be covered for the rest of the day? Why do we have to utter a blessing every time we pop a candy or apple into our mouths?
I came to realize that our Creator truly does not need our adulation; rather we need to express it. It is to our great benefit to pause, think about the fact, for example, that we have food and are able to eat it, and thus walk away with sweet recognition that we actually “have it good.”
Frequent and timely awareness of someone or something that enriches our lives can dispel sadness, hopelessness and anger. Hakarat hatov – recognition of the good things granted us – is spiritual penicillin that helps us beat back the toxic germs of despair and despondency that threaten our emotional, mental and even our physical wellbeing.
Instead of complacently and mindlessly taking our everyday abilities and routines for granted, when we see them as daily gifts, we realize that our chelek, our “lot” in life is actually quite amazing.
The sage Ben Zoma asks in Pirkei Avot “who is rich?” and answers, “one who is satisfied with his lot.” (In essence one who appreciates what he has and what he can do). It follows then that the reverse is, who is poor? He who is unappreciative of his status quo – of his lot.
Since “poor” people are considered as if they are dead – one can only conclude that those, who as the song goes, “can’t get no satisfaction”, those who chronically complain and whine and feel deprived are viewed as being dead.
By constantly thanking and blessing Hashem with our tefillot, we remind ourselves of all that we do have, which leads to being “satisfied” – and feeling very much alive.
Ironically, by having hakarat hatov, being aware that “services have been rendered” on our behalf, we come to realize that we are valued, cherished and beloved.
Hakarat hatov develops and enhances the “giver’s” positive view of him/herself. Babies and young children develop healthy egos and thrive when they become aware that their needs are always being addressed and tended to. The message they internalize is that they are special; they are worthy and prized.
At the end of the day, Hashem does not need or benefit from our expressions of appreciation, from our hakarat hatov – we do, and so do those whose path connects with our own.
By frequently thanking Hashem, we get into the habit of thanking the people in our lives – family members, friends and even strangers – and that action is the key ingredient for shalom bayis, at home, in the workplace, and everywhere else.
Awareness of a chesed or favor – and verbalizing praise and thanks – are the nutrients that nourish a relationship through the best of times and the worst of times. A lack of hakarat hatov causes acidic resentment, anger, hurt and bitterness that gradually eats away at the relationship and dissolves it.
It is precisely because getting appreciation and validation is a very human need that Hashem in His wisdom engineered that giving thanks become second nature to us – which is directly achieved by showing Him constant hakarat hatov for what He does for us.
He wants from us to get into the “habit” of being conscious of chesed and expressing gratitude and appreciation, because doing so leads to a happier and successful life. In His eyes we are like young children, who 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 custom to do so before stepping off the curb. Likewise, when we constantly thank Hashem for His thousands of kindnesses, it becomes routine to us to do so.
Lashon hatov – praise and positive speech is a by-product of hakarat hatov . Failure to verbally express appreciation is a form of lashon harah. As I see it lashon harah occurs in two ways: By actively “bad-mouthing” somebody, denigrating some aspect of the person, or criticizing something they did, or failed to do.
Or by saying nothing.
Sometimes silence is not golden. Not opening your mouth and giving a compliment, or 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 effectively as 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 after day. Every adult Jew has eaten thousands upon thousands of meals – yet Hashem expects us to say a blessing of thanks each time. He 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 and go unappreciated.
By the time someone is 20, they have woken up over 7000 times. But each time we 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 beings do. By having us constantly thank Him, G-d is training us to get into the habit of practicing hakarat hatov with the people with whom we share our earthly space. It is the road that leads to shalom bayis and peace in general.
Thanking Hashem also enhances our own capacity for happiness as it heightens our awareness of all the good we might have otherwise missed by virtue of their everydayness.
For that reason alone, He deserves our eternal praise.
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