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Hakarat Hatov – Being Thankful

Dear RPRY Community,

Hakarat Hatov – being thankful – is a foundational Jewish value, and is RPRY’s theme for the 5778 school year.

Gratitude is part of our very fiber as Jews. In fact, the source of the appellation “Jew” – Yehudim in Hebrew – originates with Leah naming her fourth son Yehuda saying, “Hapa’am odeh et Hashem – This time I will thank God“ (Bereishit 29:35). Identifying with the Jewish People should be a constant reminder of how essential it is to feel thankful and to express our appreciation – both to Hashem and to other people.

I’ve often been bothered by the fact that it took four sons for Leah to express her gratitude. Why didn’t she name her first son Yehuda? Rashi explains that Leah knew there were to be twelve tribes, and that she was one of four mothers who would give birth to them. So, she expected to have three sons. Once she received more than her share, that is when she felt gratitude. But still, shouldn’t she have been thankful for her first three sons regardless of the fact that they may have been “coming to her?”

In a class to Jewish educators, Dr. David Pelcovitz of the Azrieli Graduate Institute of Yeshiva University delineated two impediments to gratitude and I’d like to focus on the first: entitlement. Research shows that when we feel deserving of something we are less likely to be thankful for it. Leah surely was happy when Reuven was born, but it wasn’t until her fourth son that she felt truly grateful for Hashem’s beneficence.

But we should be thankful for every blessing in our lives, deserved or not. Being a “Jew” means that we should not focus on entitlement but on gratitude. This focus begins when we first wake up each morning and say Modeh Ani, thanking Hashem for the opportunity of a new day.

Feeling thankful promotes a positive attitude in us, and expressing our gratitude spreads that positive energy to others.

We’re looking forward to a wonderful year of learning and of appreciating all of the bracha in our lives. Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Loew
Head of School