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The Systems of the Jewish Year

The Gratitude Attitude

By TorahLab

A great rabbi was once riding in a taxi. As the car approached it’s destination, the driver, in an effort to honor his esteemed passenger offered to waive the fee. The rabbi declined and insisted on paying the full amount. “If I don’t pay you now”, he explained, “I will be indebted to you for the rest of my life”.

There is more to gratitude than just saying thank you. There is an obligation to appreciate, to recognize that we have been lucky enough to be the recipient of something good. We should realize that we might have just experienced, albeit in a miniscule way, one of the events that will shape the rest of our life.

Last night, I received as a gift Yonah Weinreb’s illuminated Hallel. If you haven’t seen it yet - get your hands on it. Never before has a volume used art and wisdom and thousands of years of history just to say Thank You.

Chanukah is about praise, we thank God for the miracles that he performs and we advertise it to the world. We sing songs of praise and we eat oily food to remember an amazing chapter in Jewish history.

Together as a nation we thank and praise G-d for the miraculous defeat of a large army in the hands of a small one, of a strong military in the hands of a weak one, and most importantly an unholy nation in the hands of a holy one. And of course we tell the story of the small flask of oil which burnt for no less than eight days.

We are about to spend a week engaged in the art of praise. If praising were easy this would be extremely convenient, but the in truth, praise when it is done correctly, can be one of the most difficult things we ever do.

In order to praise we need to appreciate. It would seem to me that before we can actually praise we need to first realize our potential, praising is about discovering how great we are, what we have been given, and how much we can accomplish. We can only celebrate our great luck after we’ve seen it in all its glory. Basically, Chanukah is about taking inventory. It is about measuring our potential against our actual efforts and accomplishments.

If I had to pick one line of Maoz Tzur that jumps out at me and sits on my conscience year after year, it would be the second last line of the second last paragraph: “U’menosar kankanim naaseh nes lashoshanim” “And from the remnant of the flasks, a miracle was wrought upon the roses (i.e. Israel)”. All this celebration is credited to the ‘remnant of the flasks’. No massive movement, no imaginative discovery, no great strategies, just some residual oil trying its best to activate its full potential. The Macabbi’s too, weren’t a mighty or particularly impressive army. They were just a handful of good people who knew what had to be done and did what they could about it.

Gratitude is an acquired trait. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in the eighth chapter of his classic, ‘Path of the Just’, comments that the most effective tool in spiritual growth and consciousness is for a person to develop a sense of awareness of the goodness that surrounds him and great kindnesses that he is constantly experiencing. He goes so far as to say that if a person would realize how truly “lucky” he is and how much good is bestowed upon him every minute of every day, it is inevitable that he will use his newfound wealth in service of God and the people around him.

Inasmuch as praise is a manifestation of gratefulness, we are only capable of praising to the extent that we can appreciate that which we have received.

The Talmud records an age-old argument between two contemporary schools of thought, the house of Shammai and the House of Hillel. According to Beis Shammai, Chanukah should begin with the kindling of all eight candles on the Menorah. Beis Shammai felt that we should waste no time waiting before celebrating the full extent of the miracle. We, however, follow the opinion of Beis Hillel who felt otherwise. We light one candle the first night and add one more every night thereafter. Celebration and praise are levels and goals to be arrived at, one step at a time. Because true praise and admiration can only happen if they are the result of quality time spent in true introspection and appreciation.

And besides, hopefully our inventory taking will inspire us to take positive action, and we all know that growth is most meaningful when we take one step at a time.

(Originally Published in NickN.A.C.K.s - a publication of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel)


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