This week’s Torah portion relates how Eliezer, the trusted aid of Avraham, was sent to Haran on a mission to find a wife for Avraham and Sarah’s son Isaac. Eliezer asks God to show him a sign to indicate the intended match for Isaac. The sign is fulfilled and Rebecca is identified as the candidate after offering water to Eliezer and his camels. In a display of gratitude to God for having endowed his mission with success, Eliezer prostrates himself and offers praise and thanksgiving to the Almighty.
Expressing gratitude for everything we have is fundamental to the Jewish way of life. Indeed the very name ‘yehudi’ – Jew – stems from the Hebrew name Yehuda which is derived from hoda’ah, meaning to thank and express gratitude. And the very first sentence a Jew utters upon awakening is the Modeh Ani prayer in which we offer thanks to the Almighty for having restored our soul.
It is interesting to note that during the chazan’s repetition of the Amidah, only the Modim blessing in which thanks is offered to God is recited individually by each member of the congregation. Offering thanks must be done verbally and in person since this brings us to recognize the gifts we have and reinforces the trait of gratitude within us.
I was privileged to take part in a most beautiful gesture of gratitude about five years ago in Israel at the Kotel, the Western Wall.
I was standing at the Chabad Tefilin booth in the Kotel plaza when I noticed a couple some distance away who appeared to need some help. I made my way over to them and they said that they were looking for a rabbi to guide them in saying a prayer. “I’m your man; you’re talking to a rabbi,” I told them and asked what the purpose of their visit was. They explained that their adult daughter was in remission from cancer and they had come to say thank you to God! They had traveled from the USA, halfway around the world, just to say thank you.
Upon further inquiry I learned that they were from Woodcliff Lake, a mere stone’s throw from my own community of Franklin Lakes. I was stunned. I shared with them my conviction that God had orchestrated our meeting in order to recognize their extraordinary expression of gratitude. After all, what were the chances that a local rabbi would be at the Kotel, spot them at the very moment they seemed lost and get the idea to walk across the plaza to ask if they needed help?! (If the subjects of this story happen to read this please get in touch with me. I would love to meet you again!)
A story is told of a pedestrian who rushes into a burning home and saves a man from the raging inferno. The likely victim asks the anonymous pedestrian how he can possibly reward him? The stranger replies that he should live a life worth saving. While verbalizing our gratitude is central to Judaism, ultimately the most profound expression of gratitude to our Creator is when we live a life worthy of the holy soul invested in us.