I often find myself spending the majority of my day-to-day life juggling my duties as a mother, along with that of a high school teacher and educator for Aish UK. A by-product of this is that admittedly, I sometimes might be guilty of "mothering" the high school students and teaching "at" my kids!
I recently found myself repeating mantras to my kids such as “Come and say thank you to your teacher for teaching you today” and “Look, there is the milkman, let's say 'thank you' for the milk delivery”.
When I think about the topic of gratitude, I realised that much of my daily grind as a mother is spent encouraging the kids to thank the various people around us. Whilst I am trying to raise polite little human beings, hoping that their manners are entrenched enough to surface even at times when I don't remind them, I recognise that it is not solely manners at stake here. A goal I am also trying to reach is to imbue in them appreciation and gratitude for the people, conveniences and services around them.
Our matriarch Leah, was the living embodiment of gratitude. When Leah had her fourth child, she aptly named him Yehuda, a name that our nation carries until this very day. Whilst we may have heard interpretations of why we are known as Jews, namely the English translation of the name Judah, there is, in fact, a deeper meaning to this name.
Jacob had four wives, and there was an ancient tradition that they would each bear an equal number of children that would later become the 12 tribes. Consequently, each wife would have given birth to three sons. Yehuda was Leah's fourth son. When she looked at her baby boy, she was overwhelmed with gratitude for receiving more than she expected or felt that she deserved! She recognised that he was an added gift from God. This resulted in her bestowing upon him a name that embodied the way she felt.
With time, 'Judah' became 'Judeans' which ultimately became simply 'Jew'. The name we proudly carry highlights the essence of who we are - every Jew has the capacity to be truly thankful - to develop the attitude of real gratitude by viewing things - everything - through a lens of "more than we deserve".
So much so that the very first words we utter in the morning, "Modeh Ani", is to thank God for granting us another day. Even something as rote and expected as waking up in the morning should be framed as an event that is in fact more than we deserve and above and beyond the 'expected norm'.
The Hebrew word for gratitude is HaKarat-HaTov, which I have always translated as just that - being grateful – but a closer look at the words actually reveals a profound but simple secret. The words HaKarat HaTov do not mean simply 'thank you' or 'be grateful' – rather “HaKarat” – “Recognition of” is often left untranslated. The simple translation means “Recognition of the Good” and therein lies the secret: You can have all the Tov/good in the world – but without the pausing in wonder to recognise its existence, the key to internal happiness will forever remain out of reach!
The more we thank - be it the teachers, the milkman, our family members, or God - the more we continue to remind ourselves that we have what to thank for - sometimes far more than we technically deserve. And so, the good in our lives is illuminated before our very own eyes, in every moment of every day. Gratitude isn't just an attitude. It's a life choice.
- November 25th 2020