Hakarat hatov, recognizing the good…
Always around this time of year and on Rosh Hashanah, I contemplate on the past year and think about what I want to achieve in the upcoming one. This year has been different for me. I appreciated and gave thanks for what I have and started my day with Modeh Ani. This prayer thanks G-d for restoring our soul each morning and enabling us to wake up and start a new day. This prayer put me in the mindset of recognizing the good that another has done for me and then expressing gratitude.
Did you know that we’re suppose to say 100 blessings a day to recognize G-d’s presence and influence on things large and small, through prayers of gratitude? The idea of giving thanks and showing gratitude is a deep and lasting concept in Judaism. Hakarat hatov is more than simple gratitude, it is recognizing and appreciating the good that another has done for us.
All Jews, according to the Talmud, are responsible for each other. Responsibility toward each other is a two step process. The first step is seeing the good and humanity in the other. The second step is sharing that goodness with them. If we took more time to praise the other, imagine how much healing would be in the world.
I didn’t realize it, but this concept has been a passion of mine for years; I just didn’t know the Hebrew word for it. When I did my doctoral dissertation, I studied the number of positive comments needed to change behavior as compared to negative suggestions or comments. I found that someone needs at least 1:1 in order to maintain behavior and 4:1 to change behavior. The surprising thing was that the teachers I observed were giving about 17 correctives to every one positive.
Imagine how different the world might be if we used this data in our everyday interactions with our children, employees, and friends. I’ve done it and I must say, it makes a tremendous difference in a relationship. It isn’t easy at first; the hard part is taking notice. As Rabbi Yissocher Frand explains, we must first admit we need someone before we can thank them. It is first an internal process.
Until doing this research, I never realized that Dayeinu is the primary lesson of hakarat hatov. It teaches us to focus on what we have and to be grateful because G-d owes us nothing but has given us so much. Even if the Jewish people hadn’t received all the blessings they did, they would still have been thankful for what they did receive. Our ultimate hakarat hatov response to G-d is manifested through our fulfillment of His mitzvot.
The Rebbe was a strong proponent of this concept. In fact, Modei Ani was his favorite prayer as it alerts us to the cardinal importance he accorded to actively focusing one’s attention on the gift of life, and making this appreciation the cornerstone of one’s consciousness. He cherished, above all, Judaism’s daily practice of not taking things for granted.
A phrase we often use, “count your blessings” tells us to gain the proper perspective on our life so that we are not overwhelmed by negativity and anxiety. I know that was especially hard to do this year. However, I found it comforting. I spent much time contemplating and acting on these kinds of behaviors. I am thankful that I, and my family, have stayed healthy. I am thankful for the many blessings I have – food to eat, a roof over my head, good friends, wonderful colleagues, a meaningful career, the opportunity to give to others, a supportive and loving spouse, the changing of the seasons, the clean air I have to breathe and water I have to drink.
And, I am extremely grateful for all of you – your generosity, your leadership, your participation, and for all you do to make the KC Jewish community strong and vibrant. There are so, so many things to be thankful for if we just take the time to acknowledge the blessings.
I wish all of you a year in which you can recognize the every day gifts, large and small, in your life and thank G-d or whomever, has given you the opportunity to be aware and give thanks. Life will not always be smooth and we will be challenged by disappointments and loss, however, through hakarat hatov, see the world anew.