The Secret Hebrew Meaning of Gratitude
The Joy of Gratitude
Hebrew is a language with deep meanings that go way beyond an outer definition, and to understand foundational concepts, some words are best understood in Hebrew.
Gratitude is one of them. There are several terms for the experience of being grateful.
Being Aware of the Good
The most common modern Hebrew expression for gratitude is HaKarat HaTov which exactly means ‘Recognizing the Good’. So, before you even decide to be grateful, you have to begin to be aware of the good as a necessary first step.
What are you grateful for? You can begin at the source, your very breath, and travel outwards from there—a sense of appreciation for your bodily functions (there are blessings for that) and your health, for your family and friends, for your shelter, for your job/interests/passions—it is an endless list.
Being aware can mean that before you taste that delicious cup of coffee, you spend just a few seconds experiencing a sense of gratitude for all the effort that went into allowing you to take that first sip.
It is an appreciation of the experience beyond the experience. Many spiritual practices in Judaism begin with the quality of gratitude. Why?
Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice
The expression Hakarat HaTov does not exist in Biblical Hebrew. There, the term for thanksgiving/gratitude is Hodah/Todah/Hoda’ah/Modeh all from the root letters of the word Vov, Daled, Hei. The beautiful thing is that this root word means thanksgiving and also to acknowledge, to admit.
In this way, in order to properly show thanks to someone, you have to first admit that they did something for you. You need to acknowledge that it was not you who caused the thing that you are thankful for, it is them. Similarly, in thanking God, we admit that we are not the ‘be all and end all’ of our existence. It is God to whom we show appreciation.
This takes a measure of humility. It takes having a certain amount of humility to recognize the many gifts that you enjoy in even a single day, an hour, a moment.
If you try this practice, you might begin to sense that you are occupying a bigger place than the one you’re in. You might become aware that there is a greater Unifier at work here, and you might actually get a sneak peek at a spiritual sense of the universe.
Wait, are you stealing?
Rabbi Hanina bar Pappa, in the Talmud (Berachot 35b) offers strong words for those who go through life without recognizing the good in their lives:
Anyone who derives benefit from this world without a blessing, it is as if he stole from God and the community of Israel. What does a lack of gratitude mean and how are you stealing?
Is it more difficult for thieves to steal from those they know or those they don’t know? Once there is a relationship, how can you deprive that person of something?
Is it not often the case that when a person steals, there is an abject denial of who or what they are stealing from? It is this denial that allows them to engage in stealing over and over again.
When you acknowledge the source of your blessings, you can’t be stealing.
And once you are aware of God in the world, how can you ignore the gifts you’ve been given?
Having a sense of this appreciation and gratitude is so important that it is considered foundational to our sages.
This is one quality that will remain
“…In the time to come………..all prayers will be annulled, but the prayer of gratitude will not be annulled. Vayikra Rabbah 9:7
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