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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


 

Despite the economic challenges that many people are currently facing, we managed to raise around $45K from over eighty families for our GivingTuesday fundraiser this week. I’m truly grateful to all the families who participated (see this week's News & Schmooze for a list). 

It just so happens (or maybe it’s by Divine design), that the Jewish perspective on gratitude is based in this week’s parasha.  

The Torah tells us that when Leah gave birth to her fourth son, Yehudah, she said “This time I will give thanks to G-d,” (Bereishit 29:35). The Midrash says that Leah “acquired for herself” the attribute of gratitude and that her descendants continued to emulate her attribute of thanksgiving.

Who were these descendants who carried on the practice of expressing gratitude (in Hebrew- hakarat hatov)? The Midrash says that first there was Yehudah, who said, “She was more righteous than I,” (Bereishit 38:26) and then there was David who said “Offer praise to the L-rd, for He is good,” (Tehillim 107:1).

Yehudah’s remark related to the incident with his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Tamar was suspected of becoming pregnant improperly from someone outside the family, while in truth, it was Yehudah who had relations with her. At the time, he didn’t recognize her because she was disguised. (This occurred before we received the Torah commandment that only a dead husband’s brother could perform levirate marriage. Therefore, the late husband’s father could also perform levirate marriage and Tamar’s relationship with Yehudah was kosher.) When they were about to put her to death, Tamar presented the signet and cane that Yehudah had given to her as a deposit and he acknowledged that they were his, admitting that he was the one who impregnated her.

The fact that the Midrash cites King David as a classic example of offering thanks, appreciation to G-d, and practicing hakarat hatov is easily understood. However, Yehudah’s announcement of his own guilt does not seem to be directly related to the attribute of offering thanksgiving. 

The interpretation of the Midrash might be based on an insight from Rav Yitzchok Hutner. Rav Hutner points out that the Hebrew word for “admitting” and the Hebrew word for “giving thanks” are one and the same — Hoda’ah. In Hebrew, we say, “I am Modeh that I owe you,” (I admit) and we also say, “Modeh Ani lefanecha” (I give thanks before You).

There is a blessing in the Shmoneh Esrei called the Blessing of thanksgiving. The blessing begins with the words, “Modim anachnu lach.” Rav Hutner says that the literal translation of these words is not “we thank You,” rather, the literal translation is “we admit to You”.

Rav Hutner explains that the reason why these two words are identical in Hebrew is because a person’s ability to give thanks is based on his ability to admit that he is incomplete. If a person gives thanks to someone, it indicates that he is incomplete — he needs the favors and kindness of someone else. This is why it is sometimes so difficult for us to say “thank you” — because it is so difficult for us to admit that we are in need. The greater the gifts that we receive from someone, the more difficult it is to say “thank you,” because a greater gift indicates our greater need.

It is sometimes very difficult to give thanks to parents because we need them so much. They have given us so much. It is sometimes very difficult to thank our spouses because we know that we are incomplete without them.

The word for thanks is the same as the word for admission because in order to say thank you, a person must have the ability to admit that he is less than perfect.

That being the case, the Midrash is very profound. The Midrash marshals two examples of hakarat hatov that stem from the very same source. Yehudah was big enough and honest enough to say “I made a mistake.” The ability of a person to admit his fallibility enables the person to show the other type of hakarat hatov, as typified by the verse brought from King David — “Offer praises to G-d, for He is Good.”

Based on this, saying that “I’m truly grateful to all the families who participated in GivingTuesday,” means that on behalf of myself and the Shul, I admit that we are incomplete without you. There is no community without you. Hence, your involvement is something to be very grateful for.