It is Good to Give Thanks to God
Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do (except on Yom Kippur) is make coffee. The first cup gives me just enough energy to make the second and then I am ready to start my day. But that is not the way I was brought up. When I was a child, I was taught that immediately upon opening my eyes I should recite the prayer of Mode Ani, “I am grateful to you Oh God for restoring my soul to me.” Judaism teaches us that the first thought formed in one's head should lead to the first words uttered, "I thank you".
The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat ha tov – recognition of the good. This attitude of being grateful begins with being aware of the good that is already ours. According to the teaching of Musar, Jewish Ethics, there are four steps to gratitude:
1. Recognize the good that you possess.
2. Acknowledge that it is a gift, not something you deserve.
3. Identify the source of the gift, whether it’s God or a human being.
4. Express your gratitude.
I recently read an interview with Sting, the former front man for the band Police, who stated that his children should not expect to inherent his tremendous fortune. He wants them to work hard themselves so they will not take all the gifts in their lives for granted. Inheritance aside, the truth is that most of what we have we did not earn: our life, the functions of our bodies, talents, the families we are born in to, and the people who care about us.
We often hear people ask, "Why me?" I cannot recall even one incident in which the question referred to something positive. It is always, "Why did I get sick?" "Why did I lose my job?", "Why did my daughter have to marry so and so?" It would be a life changing experience to start asking "Why do I have such a great family?", "Why was I born in a time and place in which I never experienced hunger and lack of shelter?" "Why do I have access to endless forms of communication enabling me to connect with my loved ones?”
I made myself a cup of coffee this morning. I smelled it, but paused before I took the first sip. And then I asked myself, "Why me?" Why do I live in a beautiful part of the world, where I can make a cup of excellent coffee in minutes? Why is it not me who lives in a small village in Ethiopia, who works all my life in hard conditions and (despite "fair trade") cannot even afford the coffee I grow?
“Tov L’hodot La Adonai, It is good to give thanks to God.”
Rabbi Alon Levkovitz