One of the subjects I was taught as a young child in the excellent day school I attended in Toronto (at the time called Associated Hebrew Day Schools) was Tefillah. Since we spoke only Hebrew during our Limudei Kodesh and secular Hebrew studies, such as Hebrew literature, creative writing and Jewish history, we understood quite well what the words we were davening actually meant.
I thus became aware at an early age that a great majority of our prayers involved thanking Hashem, and praising Him for the multitude of kindnesses and benefits that we experienced on a daily basis.
It seemed that we were thanking Him constantly, all the time, nonstop. Every action, like eating or even hearing thunder – came connected to a “Baruch Ata Hashem.” And if, without thought, we popped a raisin in our mouth without saying a brachah or ran out of the bathroom forgetting to say “Asher Yatzar” in our eagerness to get to recess, we felt so mortified, guilty and blemished – and afraid of Divine retribution.
Now human nature is such that nobody likes to feel guilty or scared or ashamed about something they did or did not do, and as I got older I began to wonder why G-d needed so much praise and thanks in the first place. After all, I thought to myself, He isn’t human – why does 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.
Hashem is the Master of the Universe and the Creator of everything. We however are mortal, finite, limited creatures whose lives come and go like a blink of an eye in time. Why this requirement to bless and thank Him every minute?
Wouldn’t it be enough to say one brachah in the morning to the effect of “Thank you for everything” and be covered for the rest of the day? Why a brachah every time we eat a fruit or vegetable or sandwich? (I’ve actually heard of busy young mothers who wash in the morning and constantly nibble so they end up benching once – after they eat their last evening snack.)
Why the seemingly endless buffet of required praise and tributes and expresses of appreciation and not just one daily, all-encompassing Baruch Hashem?
I came to realize that Hashem truly does not need our adulation. But we need to express it. It is to our great benefit that demonstrating hakarat ha’tov becomes second nature to us. Because awareness and gratitude to someone or something that enriches our lives is the calcium that build and fortifies and maintains our relationships, whether in the personal, professional, social, communal – even international realms.
Most people are willing to go the extra mile and do something that benefits someone, be it a woman making meals for her family, or an employee staying past quitting time to do work that needs to be completed. But it is crucial that there is an acknowledgment from the recipient of the effort. Often, a simple “thank you” is enough for it does what really matters – recognizes and validates.
Hakarat ha’tov makes the “giver” feel valuable and gives him/her self-esteem. These are the nutrients that nourish a relationship through the best of times and the worst of times. A lack of hakarat ha’tov causes acidic resentment, anger, hurt and bitterness that gradually eats away at the relationship and rots it.
By having us constantly thank Hashem, we get into the habit of thanking the people in our lives -family members, friends and even strangers – and that is the key ingredient for shalom bayis – at home, in the workplace, and everywhere else.
But there is yet another component to hakarat ha’tov – one that is internal, rather than external. By thanking Hashemfor such habitual everyday occurrences like going to the bathroom, eating, walking, seeing – we learn to appreciate all the good in our lives – and in doing so we realize that our chelek – our “lot” in life is actually pretty good.
So many people are excessively wrapped up in what they are lacking – or even worse, they are so consumed by what others have, they cannot enjoy what they do have. Pirkei Avot states, “Who is rich? – the one who is happy with his lot.”
If you reverse that thought, one who is not satisfied with his lot – is poor. Being poor is likened in the Torah as being dead. So the inevitable conclusion – those who are unhappy with their lot can be viewed as being dead.
By constantly thanking and blessing Hashem with our tefillot, we constantly remind ourselves of all that we do have – which leads to being “satisfied” – and feeling very much alive.