These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Benny Levy — Thanksgiving Appreciation

Posted on November 22, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

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Benny Levy (PEP ’07-’09) originally wrote this dvar Torah for the Pardes Educators Alumni Support Project:

We celebrated Simchat Torah not long ago. One of the customs of the holiday is to call all children under Bnai Mitzvah age to the Torah in order to include them in the happiness of ending the cycle of the Torah. This year, as I had done in the past, I stood under the tallit (though this year I stood with the newest addition to my family: my daughter born two months prior). Standing there, so close to the Torah, in the presence of other members of the community, and with my daughter in my arms, I started reflecting over the past year. As I stood thinking about how grateful I was for changes in my life over this past year, I suddenly heard my name announced for the honor of Chatan Torah, along with a short explanation as to why my community had decided to honor me so. I was shocked and, more than that, extremely surprised as to how I gained the right to be honored in such a way. This honor reminded me of all that I have for which to be thankful and gave me something else to reflect upon: how can I show gratitude to those who honored me and gave me this opportunity?

In a few weeks, many of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving. This is a holiday that emphasizes the value of saying “thank you” and showing appreciation to others. All of my recent reflections have gone along this theme, leading me to consider the value of Hakarat Hatov and its connection to studying Torah.

An essential prerequisite of Torah study is Hakarat Hatov, remembering, acknowledging, and appreciating the good that others have done for us. This stems from when God tells the people, even before they have received the Torah, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and [how] I bore you on eagles’ wings, and I brought you to Me. And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth” (Shemot 19:4-5). The basic assumption of these pasukim is that the people of Israel realize what God did for them; they know to remember and appreciate the fact that God struck the Egyptians, and took them out of Egypt. Only people who can value Hakarat Hatov (appreciation) can learn Torah from God.

The opening section of the book of Mishlei (Proverbs) describes this connection. “Kindness and truth shall not leave you; bind them upon your neck, inscribe them upon the tablet of your heart; and find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man” (Mishlei 3:3-4). “Kindness” is a good deed that is done voluntarily, beyond duty or obligation. Truth is a good deed that is done because of duty and/or a promise. Kindness and truth shall not leave you. If someone has done something good for you, either voluntarily or out of duty, you must not forget this—you cannot allow his good deeds to leave your memory. It is so important to remember the good deeds of others towards us that it is necessary to use concrete, physical methods such as tying and writing in order to remember them: “bind them upon your neck, inscribe them upon the tablet of your heart.” God loves people who have the ability to do Hakarat Hatov —“and find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man”—those who act in such a way are in God’s favor. Additionally, when people see that your mind is in a good place, thinking in a good way and remembering those who were kind and true to you, you will be thought of by others in a good way.

Only after people remember and appreciate the good deeds that were done for them can they continue to strengthen their connections with God. As Mishlei continues, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart… Know Him in all your ways… fear the Lord… Honor the Lord… My son, despise not the discipline of the Lord… for the Lord chastens the one He loves as a father placates a son.”

Although I could never find ways to show God how grateful I am for the good things He has given me in my life, I can be appreciative for the people around me—especially my family and friends, who have done and still do great things for me every day, and (believe it or not) even my job at times. In that spirit, my wish for you this month and every month is that you should have the ability and capability to perform Hakarat Hatov and show gratitude to the people around in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!