Please note: My column was written prior to the tragic news of our three beautiful boys, our three precious sons.
Mah nomar u’mah nedaber – there are no words, no consolation, only tears.
Our hearts are one with the families; know that you are not alone.
We and all of Am Yisrael feel your pain.
Hashem Yerachem Aleinu.
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Last week I shared a letter I received expressing gratitude from a woman who had benefited many years ago from our work at Hineni.
Why did I consider it unusual? Don’t people say “thank you” all the time? I’d like to say the answer is yes, or even yes and no, but my experience has shown that very often it is no. Not because people are mean-hearted or nasty. It’s just that it doesn’t occur to them to say it.
Ours is a culture of entitlement. The prevalent attitude is “it’s coming to me; you owe it to me.” In striking contrast, hakaras hatov, gratitude, is one of the main pillars of our faith. Saying a heartfelt “thank you” has no limits. Nor is there an expiration date on it. Thousands of years have passed since our Exodus but to this day at the Seder we thank G-d for every detail of our liberation from Egypt. It may have occurred millennia ago but our indebtedness and gratitude to G-d remain forever.
I am not suggesting that all people are ingrates. There are many who say “thank you” with heartfelt sincerity. But there are many more who accept favors with an attitude of entitlement and feel no reason to display gratitude.
The rationale is simple. If I’m not indebted, I can chose my own way and do my own thing. I’m not bound to anyone. I’m not obligated in anyway.
That attitude has played a major role in the disintegration of the family. You listen to the language that has become acceptable in most households and you shudder with revulsion. If you don’t, it’s only because you’ve gotten used to it.
There are numerous regulations in the Torah that pertain to our relationship with our fathers and mothers. But we are too busy to look at those “atavistic” teachings. We pride ourselves on our scientific and technological know-how. But what good is our ability to reach the moon when we have yet to learn how to reach the heart?
The Torah places honor of parents on the same side of the tablet where our relationship with G-d is declared. There’s a reason for that. If children do not know how to relate to their parents respectfully, they won’t be able to relate to G-d either.
Perhaps now you can better understand why I shared that letter last week. I could write volumes regarding the people who come to my office angry and bitter. “I prayed and G-d let me down,” they say. “What’s the use? I can’t believe in Him anymore. I’m through.”
And there are young people who come to complain about their parents not giving them the financial support they feel is their due. Shalom bayis goes flying out the window when mother and father can’t deliver. This attitude is, of course, antithetical to our Torah way of life.
Hebrew, the holy tongue, is the language of G-d. If we could just focus on the meaning of the words they would give us great insight and understanding. The words for thanks or gratitude, modeh and todah, also mean “to admit.” When we say “thank you” we admit our indebtedness –we acknowledge that kindness and help have been extended to us. It is an admission from the heart that says, loud and clear, “we are grateful.”