No Thank You

More words and more actions

We recently observed the 30th anniversary of my father’s death. His influence on my life has not waned. One of his oft-repeated teachings still resonates with me. Saying, ‘thank-you for everything,’ really means thank-you for nothing. Merely mouthing the words ‘thank-you’ is an inadequate response to the good we have received. As the beneficiaries of good we ought to reciprocate with something more substantive than simply disturbing a few air molecules as we vibrate our vocal cords into projecting two routine syllables.

A small gift or hand-written card is wonderful. At the very least, we ought to detail the precise benefits we derived and for which we are expressing appreciation.

Ancient Jewish wisdom points out something rather remarkable. In the entire Torah, the Five Books of Moses, nobody just says thank-you. The word used in modern Israeli Hebrew for thank-you, todah, does not appear in the Torah other than as the name of a specific gratitude offering:

And when you offer a Thank-you offering to the Lord…
(Leviticus 22:29)

This constitutes a valuable clue in our attempt to unravel the deeper meaning of thank-you. It turns out that merely mouthing ‘thank-you’ is not part of God’s Biblical blueprint. It is preferable to do an action reflecting your gratitude.

Noah neglects to orally thank God for saving him from the flood. His gratitude takes the form of building an altar. Abraham never thanks God for his son, Isaac. Instead, he circumcises his eight day old son exactly according to God’s command. While the Israelites do sing a song of praise to God after their deliverance from Egypt, they never actually say the words, ‘thank-you’. Leah names her sons Judah, to commemorate her feelings of gratitude rather than simply saying the words, ‘thank you’. We too should, to the best of our abilities, use an action to represent our gratitude rather than just mouthing the words.

Or, at the very least, specify the details about which you are grateful, as we see demonstrated in Psalm 136. King David says thank you to God but he doesn’t stop there. He goes on for 26 verses specifying what acts of God he so deeply appreciates. Here are some of the verses.

Give thanks to God; for he is good;
for His loving kindness endures forever. (Verse 1)

To Him who with wisdom made the heavens;
for His loving kindness endures forever. (Verse 5)

To Him who made great lights;
for His loving kindness endures forever… (Verse 7)

The Jewish holiday most associated with giving thanks is Chanukah for which the liturgy explicitly prescribes actions and expressions of gratitude to God. This coming weekend, as happens some years, includes both Thanksgiving and the first night of Chanukah. What a wonderful opportunity to double down on recommitting to following God’s path!

Appreciating the people around us is another way of appreciating God as well. After all, imagine the terrible loneliness if God didn’t provide us with a world full of potential friends, partners and companions.

On Thanksgiving and all year around, let’s not only give thanks to God but also to our family and friends, to our spouses and siblings. Maybe even to our employers and fellow workers who help to make it possible for us to live abundantly. What a marvelous time to practice King David’s lesson by joyfully specifying the benefits we derive from these relationships. Let’s give thanks for those things we easily take for granted and only notice when they are missing.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments on this Thought Tools article.
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Announcing the Release of Unit 2!

Our journey continues as Rabbi Daniel Lapin provides access to God’s deeper meaning in the Bible by exploring the letters and words of the Lord’s Language.

Join Rabbi Daniel Lapin as he guides you through your inspiring adventure in Genesis 2:4-24, decoding the original Hebrew text, verse-by-verse, through the scintillating lens of ancient Jewish wisdom.

Unit 2 of Scrolling through Scripture focuses on what appears to be a repetition of the Creation tale. It includes the following:

  • Why there seem to be two accounts of Creation.
  • How spelling “mistakes” in the Bible reveal coded material.
  • Why dismissing duplicate language like “eat, you shall eat” as poetic, misses the point.
  • The spiritual source of many of our physical problems.

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