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Dr. Alissa C Zuchman, Director, 847-291-7788

On Being Grateful Wednesday, July 5, 2023 – 16 Tamuz 5783

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A few months ago, I found a handwritten note hanging loose at the entrance of my apartment building. The anonymous message, addressed to no one, read: “Please don’t complain; it is not fair. I wake every day at 2:00 am to deliver the paper. Have mercy! I do my best.”

We can imagine the scenario as it is all too common. Someone complained and was ungrateful to another person who was doing their best to be of service to others. As humans our lives are intertwined in a delicate balance. At any giving moment, one might be at the receiving or giving end of kindness. Although it seems simple to acknowledge these actions, it is just as easy to take them for granted.

Is there a way to thank the endless acts of kindness done by faceless, nameless people whom we may never meet? Can we pause the tumult of daily life long enough to express gratitude towards those who do things for others humbly and silently?

Jewish tradition teaches that the middah (trait) of – hakarat todah (being thankful) – is the most important of all the positive traits while its opposite – kafui tovah(ingratitude) is the worst trait of all negative traits[Sefer HaChinukh 33]. 

Abarbanel, a Portuguese Jewish philosopher and Bible commentator, wrote, long before the notion of positive reinforcement was conjured, that when a person (A) recognizes the assistance he has received from another individual (B), it prompts the individual (B) to continue providing him (A) with acts of kindness. By the same token, if a person (A) consciously withholds the recognition of the good done by the other individual (B), it will weaken the individual’s (B) desire to demonstrate and extend further kindness to him (A).

To then implement this Jewish principle, perhaps next time I stop to look up at a note hanging loose in my building, it should read: “Thank you for delivering the paper every day. I don’t know who you are but appreciate everything you do.”Perhaps you or I can be the one to write it.

During the quiet summer school months away from school, countless people assist in preparing our foundational institutions and physical buildings for the academic year. The beginning of the year offers a precious opportunity to teach young learners the notion of hakarat todah. As with any other behavioral traits, Hakarat todah can be learned and practiced until it becomes both individual habit and an integral part of our overreaching school community character.

Dr Alicia Gejman

Senior Educator