When our children are very young, we teach them to say “thank you.” Sometimes we are left holding our breath, hoping they’ll remember those magic words when they receive a gift or after being served a meal. We hope they will incorporate the good manners into their way of speech and action.
The words of “thanks”, “much appreciated” and the like are certainly first steps, to build upon in being polite and well-mannered. Translating ‘mere’ words into the Midah of gratitude requires training, and so much more. We can gain a glimpse into the depth and profundity of gratitude – Hakoras HaTov, from this week’s Parsha.
Miriam waited, hidden among the reeds along the river, to see what would be the fate of her baby brother, Moshe, floating in a basket. The Gemara in Maseches Sota 9b tells us that 80 years later, when Miriam was afflicted with Tzoraas (a form of leprosy), the entire Jewish People were delayed in their journey through the desert to Eretz Yisrael, all progress was halted while they waited the week it took for Miriam to be purified from her affliction. The Gemara lets us know that this was because of Miriam’s waiting on behalf of her brother, and she was rewarded in kind.
The questions are many; who wouldn’t wait for a sibling, when he was in mortal danger, Miriam waited perhaps 20 – 30 minutes, and the reward was 168 hours – one week. Miriam was one person and Klal Yisrael was 3 million people, Miriam was seemingly not held back from accomplishing a different task, but the Klal Yisrael was on its journey with destiny, yearning to reach Eretz Yisrael as quickly as possible. How does it make sense to suggest that the wait of an entire week by the entire nation postponing its travel to the Holy Land was connected to the short wait for the helpless, infant brother of Miriam?
The insight gleaned from here by several Mefarshim, commentators, is that we don’t have a proper appreciation for the obligation to show gratitude. When someone does something for you, that’s `huge’! We should never take for granted a favor done to us, a kind word or positive consideration sent our way. The slightest act of Chesed and sensitivity creates an obligation for us to feel and show gratitude. If Klal Yisrael’s waiting for Miriam was out of gratitude for her small act of Chesed towards a helpless family member, then we clearly have to work on improving our Midah of gratitude.
What an important lesson to impart to our children! Hakoras Hatov is one of the fundamentals of a mensch – learning to appreciate what others do for us. By truly appreciating others’ efforts, every little effort, (and unlike Miriam, even efforts that don’t bear fruit) and not falling prey to the “Es Kumt Mir”, “everything’s coming to me”, the entitlement philosophy, our children will gain a deeper and more meaningful appreciation for others, for their parents, and ultimately for Hashem. Appreciating what Hashem does for us every moment will help our children achieve a greater appreciation for the gift of life, for the joy of living, for Hashem’s tremendous love for us. It will help them become more selfless people, able to give and to be drawn closer to Hashem. And ultimately it will make them happier people too.
Best wishes for an appreciative and joyous Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann