There is a section in the Talmud (Berachot 7b) that says that no one thanked God since the creation of the world until Leah thanked God for her fourth son, Yehudah. This is a very puzzling statement. How could this be true?
The Avot and other Imahot were blessed with so many reasons to thank God. What about Adam or Noach? One could even ask, why did Leah herself not properly thank God for her first three children? Why were the forefathers and mothers not commended for their appreciation to God? What is it about this thanksgiving instance that sets it apart?
There is an explanation of this idea that Rabbi Zev Leff quotes from the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 71:4). He says that Rav Berechiah says in the name of Rav Levi: This [concept] can be compared to a kohen who was given a large amount of terumah by one individual and did not thank him. He was then given a small measure of unconsecrated grain, and he thanked the donor. Said the first individual to the kohen: “I gave you a large amount, and you did not thank me; he gave you a very small amount and you thanked him. [Why?]” The kohen replied: “You gave me what rightfully belonged to me, so I saw no reason to thank you. He gave me what belonged to him and upon which I had no claim. Therefore, I thanked him.”
The Midrash is explaining that sometimes we only properly thank someone for something we feel is not naturally ours. It is noted that the Imahot knew that there were going to be 12 tribes of Yaakov. Each of the matriarchs thought they would have three sons, so when Leah had a fourth son, she thanked God for the extra gift that was beyond her allotted portion.
In life, we tend to feel grateful to God at times when we get a special bonus that we do not feel we deserve. We only start acknowledging God for the matters that are above and beyond our perceived merits. In Hebrew, we say that someone who is thankful has hakarat hatov. Hakarah means to recognize. An effective way of bringing oneself to a true level of gratitude may be to recognize that everything God gives us is essentially a bonus. In modern-day society, entitlement is a big yetzer hara. Our problem is that we feel that the gifts we have and the circumstances we encounter are naturally ours, and therefore we rarely feel gratitude. On this national holiday of
Thanksgiving, let us take the time to see the little things that God blessed us with that we may be taking for granted. Once we truly start to realize that nothing in life is a given, then we will be able to truly have the midah of hakarat hatov.
This article was originally written for the Thanksgiving issue of Touro Torah—a divrei Torah publication by the Lander College for Women. Penina Abramov is a graduate of Bruriah followed by Michlalah, and is currently a junior at Lander College in Manhattan, majoring in psychology.
By Penina Abramov