The Torah refers to "thankfulness" as "hakaras hatov." This highlights for us that to merely say "thank you" is not enough. A person needs to recognize, or be "makir," the good that someone else has done for us. One can say thank you every time someone else does something for him and not do "hakaras hatov" once. On the other hand, someone can never say thank you, but yet recognize very well the good he has received. Of course, proper recognition of the good one has received will inevitably prompt some action of recognition to the giver. However, the main idea is still to recognize, or be "makir tov", the good that you have received and not merely to say the right words.
If that is the case, we need to understand: how is it possible for us to truly recognize all of the good that Hashem has done for us, and not just say the right words? How can we be thankful to Hashem for giving us the physical gifts he has blessed us with, mental abilities, family, friends, physical comforts and of course- having placed us in this wonderful country, the United States of America? If a person has never experienced being blind, how can he truly be thankful for being able to see? If someone never experienced living in a harsh and cruel country, how can he be thankful for living in a free and benevolent country?
- Every now and then a person can get a small taste of what being deprived feels like. At times even a healthy person may break their leg- this is an opportunity to taste what it feels like to not be able to walk. At times even a rich person may find himself without money for something he wants or needs- this is an opportunity for him to appreciate what it means to be poor.
It turns out that difficult situations that Hashem puts us in are opportunities for us to appreciate what it feels like to not have all of the blessings that we have become used to. These are chances for us to be grateful for the good that we have and therefore get more enjoyment and pleasure from what we have been blessed with.
- Human beings have an amazing ability to imagine things with such vividness that it feels real. The Baalei Mussar have taught us that a person should learn Mussar with emotion that is fueled by picturing and imagining the lesson at hand. By depicting for ourselves powerful imagery that enables us to taste what being deprived feels like, we can be more grateful for that which we do have. If a person can get himself emotional about this lesson, it will more powerfully implant it in his psyche.
Let us all strive to inculcate in ourselves and in our children and students, not merely paying lip service to this important trait of gratefulness, but to really feel it as well. We shouldn't be people that just say thank you, we should be people that recognize the good that we have.
Rabbi Eli Meir Kramer