As the Jewish calendar month of Adar begins today, we have arrived at our fifth value from our Jewish Values curriculum: Hakarat Hatov. This is one of my personal favorites, when our students begin to realize the profound importance and even holiness in a Jew’s obligation of “seeking joy and being grateful.”
Hakarat Hatov literally translates to “recognizing the good,” but as we do with all of the values at ShalomLearning, we ask our students to take the meaning a step further.
When you look at the etymology of being Jewish, “Judaism” comes from the name “Judah,” (Yehuda in Hebrew) the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. At his birth Leah said, “This time I will thank God” (Genesis 29:35). Yes, the root of our tribe’s name is “Hodah” which means “to give thanks,” thus at the very essence of being Jewish is to be thankful.
According to Harvard Medical School, giving thanks makes you happier. Positive Psychology research has proven that the benefits of being grateful are enormous (such as improved health, quality of life in relishing good experiences, dealing with adversity, and building stronger relationships). There are several things that you can do to boost your graciousness like keeping a gratitude journal, writing and hand delivering letters of gratitude, praying, etc.
In my family, every Shabbat, just before or after the Friday night Kiddush, we go around the table and everyone contributes some “good news of the week.” This is a tradition my wife and I picked up from one of my first Jewish education mentors, Rabbi Fred Benjamin. At Rabbi Benjamin’s house, we passed the kiddush cup around while everyone had a turn holding the good news and reflected on one thing for which they were thankful. The cup that was filled with with wine and blessings of joy literally overflowed even more with the gratitude. Plus, all food and drink always tastes better with a blessing before hand. I encourage you all to try this tradition!
Countless of our non-Jewish friends after joining us for Shabbat have shared with us that they have brought the “good news of the week” into their homes. I have long known that whatever one focuses on is real to that person. The key to a successful life is not in material things, but rather it is in gratitude and appreciation of life itself and those we love.
I am so very thankful to be part of the ShalomLearning community and my prayer for you during this point of our curriculum is for all of you to bring in more “good news of the week” into your lives and into your homes. Share your joy with your family and friends. It is The Jewish Way (a great book by Rabbi Irving Greenberg). Your kids will thank you some day for this gift of gifts (being grateful for gratitude itself). So… If you haven’t done it yet, I recommend you start with some good news of the week.
And may you have a chag purim samaeach!
It has been a few months since the light of Hannukah filled our homes, and the joy of celebrating the holiday of light with our families is almost a distant memory. As Jews, it is strange to be “holiday-less” as we are always celebrating or commemorating something. It has felt like a few months of “holiday vacation” (with the exception of Tu B’Shvat) where we took a break from the often unhealthy (but delicious) Jewish food and got back to our daily lives.
It is also an “empty” few months in the sense that we are not filled with the joy that comes with celebrating with family. However, do not fret as a very exciting holiday is approaching – Purim! Like Hannukah, Purim is a holiday where we commemorate that our people almost met a tragic fate, but thanks to the heroism of several characters (Mordechai and Queen Esther) our people stood up for our beliefs and ultimately won!
Many of us know the Purim story: King Achashverosh doesn’t like his queen, so he holds a contest for a new queen. Esther, a nice Jewish girl, enters the contest after being nudged by her uncle Mordechai. The king’s evil sidekick Haman has a different plan for the Jewish people and convinces the king to rid all of the Jews in Shushan (Persia) on a certain day. Long story made short, the king does not know his new wife Esther is Jewish. When she risks her life by revealing her identity, she saves her people! Talk about gevurah (courage)! A very happy ending to a risky situation.
How is this month’s value, hakarat hatov, connected to the Purim story? The Jewish people have been through many ups and downs, and like the Purim story, have often avoided a tragic fate; however, we always recognize or identify the good in any situation. The Purim story could have been tragic but due to Esther’s gevurah (strength), courage, and pride in being Jewish, she was able to create a positive outcome for the Jewish people.
We, too, can recognize or identify the good; the tov in any situation. In our daily lives we face ups and downs. In addition, with social media and the internet, we are aware of global acts of anti-semitism or other types of adversity and hate. We can dwell in the sadness of the world, the prejudice and the pain, or we can find the good, the tov, and do our part as Esther did to fix the world and to do tikkun olam. May we all find the strength to pursue the tov even in the darkest situations or experiences. Wishing you all a Chag Purim Sameach, a very happy and joyous Purim.