Thanksgiving is an American traditional holiday celebrated mainly in the U.S. and Canada.
In Israel we don’t celebrate this specific holiday but the Jewish religion is based on giving thanks to Hashem, the Almighty, in our daily prayers, from the minute we wake up and open our eyes.
According to Judaism, gratitude is the basis of everything: faith, joy, awe, and love of God. Only when we recognize how much God has given us and how little we deserve it, can we come to a place of faith and love.
Upon awakening observant Jews recite “I give thanks before you, eternal King, for having restored to me my soul.”
Every single day there are one hundred blessings to be recited, one hundred times to say thank you. One hundred times we emphasize not what we are missing but are grateful for what we have.
The reason we are known as Jews is because most of us are descended from Judah. Of the 12 children who came from Jacob, 10 of the tribes of Israel were lost, scattered to unknown destinations and no longer identifiable by their heritage.
We, who remained, other than the priests and Levites, stem either from the large tribe of Judah or the much smaller one of Benjamin. Since the odds are very great that the survivors of historic diminution by assimilation or persecution are in the majority from Judah, we are called Jews.
But what is it about this particular tribe, descendants of but one of the 12 children of Israel that insured its survival above the others?
It is very intriguing, both historically and theologically, to wonder what special characteristic the family of Judah possessed that allowed it to succeed while most of the remainder of the Israelites perished.
While there may be many answers, a number of Jewish commentators believe the secret of Judah’s blessings are implicit in the Hebrew meaning of his name. When Leah, his mother, gave birth to him she said, “This time I will give thanksgiving unto the Lord; therefore she called his name Judah” (Genesis 29:35) – from the Hebrew HODAH, gave thanks.
The matriarch Leah named her fourth son Yehuda, a name derived from the word “to thank.” Since the moniker “Jew” derives from the name “Yehuda,” thanking is somehow integral to being Jewish.
But why did Leah wait until her fourth child to use this name? Wasn’t she more grateful for her first child than her fourth?
Jacob’s four wives knew prophetically that they would give birth to the twelve sons who would become the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Since there were four wives, each one expected to give birth to three sons.
When Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she felt that she had received more than her fair share. So she named him Yehuda, saying, “This time I will thank God.”
This teaches us something essential about gratitude. Gratitude is a function not of how much we have, but rather of how much we have relative to how much we feel we deserve.
When you have worked hard at your job, you usually do not feel flooded with gratitude when you pick up your paycheck. Even a holiday bonus may come to be expected as your just desserts and not elicit a great surge of gratitude – unless it is a far bigger sum than you feel you deserve.
The opposite of gratitude is a feeling of entitlement. The attitude of “I deserve it” turns every gift into a paycheck.
The Hebrew term for gratitude is “hakarat hatov,” which literally means, “recognizing the good.” The secret embedded in the Hebrew is that gratitude depends not on getting something good, but on recognizing the good that is already yours.
Thus, gratitude is totally a feat of consciousness. It requires a “back to basics” mentality, becoming cognizant of all the rudimentary things we usually take for granted. No matter how much we lack, no matter what difficult times we are passing through, every one of us can find a myriad of things to be grateful for.
Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.