|Targum shel Yonoson: Chanukah: Gratitude|
|Written by Rabbi Jonathan Ziskind|
On Chanukah we add a special prayer of thanks- Al Hanisim. We conclude this prayer by saying, “…and they established these eight days of Chanukah to thank and to praise Your great name.” On Chanukah the mitzvah of the day is to be thankful and to express our gratitude; to sing to, praise and thank Hashem for the kindness he has bestowed upon us. In particular, we thank Hashem for the miraculous victory and the spiritual survival of the Jewish nation. Many have attested that the mere survival of the Jewish nation is the greatest miracle. In the words of Mark Twain, “All things are mortal but the Jew.” The Romans and the Greeks have come and gone, Hitler and Stalin rose and fell but we have endured with our Torah intact. Philosophies and religions have been altered and transformed but our Torah is unchanged. A single tiny burning wick each night is all it takes to fulfill the mitzvah on Chanukah. Our people may be just a tiny spark amongst the billions who make up the nations of the world but our spark burns on.
This prayer of Al Hanisim is added in the shmoneh esrei, in the blessing of thanksgiving, and in benching in the blessing of thanksgiving. Gratefulness is a very central idea in Torah, in being a Jew and, according to many, in being a healthy human being. A person who does not recognize all that he can be thankful for is either selfish or has a negative and pessimistic attitude. Someone who finds it difficult to show or express appreciation will inevitable have difficult relationships. Without a sense of gratitude life is pretty miserable.
Rav Dessler says that lack of appreciation stems from the attitude of “it’s coming to me”. Someone who is a taker, whose goal in life is to get whatever he can, who expects everything to be the way he wants it, doesn’t feel the need or sense the obligation to express appreciation. But someone who is a giver, whose attitude is ‘what can I do for someone else’, the moment he receives something he will automatically feel that he must reciprocate. He feels indebted to his beneficiary and the minimum he can do is express his appreciation.
We don’t always find it easy to say thank you. It can be because it shows that we owe that person something, and we don’t want to feel indebted to someone else. Sometimes we refuse a favor simply to avoid a debt of thanks. Rav Dessler writes that this is not a good midah (character trait). But there are great individuals who don’t want to be on the receiving end of a favor or gift because they are afraid that they will not be able to express their thanks adequately - that is a good midah. We say in the prayer of Nishmas kol chai that no matter how great our capabilities would be, we would never be able to thank Hashem appropriately. That is why we don’t look to have it all and live it up, we are afraid that we will be taking more than we can give, we will remain indebted. Someone who takes loan after loan knowing full well that he will not pay back is tantamount to thievery.
To a person with a negative outlook, everything looks wrong. Such a person always finds fault and seeks to blame and complain. With such an attitude, gratitude is out of reach. Gratitude is a key component of a positive outlook. If you want to bring more happiness in your life, look for something to be thankful for and then go ahead and say thank you. Feeling grateful is the first step but going out and expressing it should follow.
There are those who point out that a central part of the sin of Odom Horishon (Adam) is the fact that he was, in some way, ungrateful. When Hashem asked him if he ate from the forbidden fruit, he responded by blaming Hashem. Odom said, “The woman who you gave to be with me, she gave me and I ate.” The implication being that it was Hashem’s fault for giving me a wife. Instead of being appreciative for this wonderful help mate, Odom expressed his ingratitude. As the first sin contained an element of ingratitude we can therefore deduce that all subsequent failings contain this element. The more grateful we are to Hashem the less likely we are to sin.
Right after Hashem handed down the punishments to the snake, Odom and his wife, Odom calls his wife Chava because she was the mother to all living humans (chava from the root word chaya- life). Right after it was decreed that man shall no longer live forever because of the sin which Odom blamed on his wife, he gives her a name which expresses how great she is- she is the mother of all human life. Even though she had just caused death in the world, Odom declares that she brings life into the world. After all the negativity that had just ensued, Odom finds the positive and calls attention to it. That was a radical turn from blaming to being grateful. That is real teshuva (repentance).
Perhaps one night after candle lighting sit around the table with your kids and give each one a chance to identify someone in their lives who they should be grateful to and why. Then ask them how they could express their appreciation. If you’re single, perhaps you can make a phone call to father or mother or a friend just to say thank you. They’ll be happy and you’ll feel good inside. If you’re married, sit down and think of something you’ve never thanked your spouse for yet and go ahead and express your gratitude, it can only make things better.
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