Gratitude – Hakarat HaTov

Gratitude has a fascinating Jewish story. When Leah, our matriarch gave birth to her fourth son, she named him Judah (Yehuda), which means “I am grateful.” This name became the Hebrew word for Jews “Yehudim,” forever linking the concept with Judaism and Jewish practice. Indeed, a vast canon of prayers and blessings are designed to offer opportunities to stop and express gratitude for everything from using the restroom to seeing rainbows and oceans. We try to take nothing for granted.

In the Mussar tradition, the trait of gratitude is called in Hebrew Hakarat HaTov, which means recognizing the good. My own study of human evolution and human nature leads me to believe that this is indeed something that most people don’t do without a significant amount of mindfulness — the default for many of us is to simple accept what is and take it for granted. One of the greatest insights of Jewish tradition is that our ability to live meaningfully is greatly increased when we have rituals and practices that allow us to stop and feel grateful for our lot in life, whatever it may include.

One of the amazing gifts of spending each and every day in a Jewish educational environment for both students and educators is that we start every day with such moments of mindfulness. Sometimes when we say the word “prayer” that can feel intimidating for those who are less fluent in Hebrew or less comfortable with the technical aspects of Judaism. Reframing this practice as sacred time set aside for introspection, gratitude, and praise makes it accessible for anyone, no matter their age or background, and each of us can find a way to connect to these emotions.

I am grateful to be entrusted with leadership of the Gesher community, and it is something that I try hard never to take for granted. Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Kol tuv (all the best),