I never realized how saying “thank you” is such an integral part of our Jewish tradition, until I was doing my weekly reading of the Torah, and I was struck by the way Jews thank. Well, to be honest, I always knew about the farmer’s mitzvah to say “thank you” by bringing his bikkurim—the first of his produce—as a form of thanks to G‑d. What I didn’t pay attention to in the past was the extensive language of his obligatory thanks:

And you shall call out and say before G‑d, your G‑d, “An Aramean [Laban] sought to destroy my father [Jacob], and he went down to Egypt and lived there with a small number of people, and there he became a great, mighty and numerous nation. And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. And we cried out to G‑d, the G‑d of our fathers, and G‑d heard our voice, and He saw our affliction, our labor and our oppression. And G‑d brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders. And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, O G‑d, have given to me . . .”

I wondered whether this was not a case of the Bible getting carried awayWhen I first read this verbose thank-you, I wondered whether this was not a case of the Bible getting carried away with some flowery poetry. Couldn’t G‑d have given the poor farmer who traveled all the way to Jerusalem a simpler way of saying “thank you”?

But upon reflection, I realized that the Torah was actually giving us a great lesson in humanity. Saying “thank you” should never be some brief line that we were taught to say by rote. “Don’t forget to say thank you and please,” I hear many parents telling their children. Which is great, but there is more to thanking than just the fulfillment of some social convention and responsibility. Saying thanks is a full realization of the context of the gift or kindness that we have received and of the history behind it, and is an expression of our inner appreciation of the gift.

When we thank our parents, spouse or friends, we need to take into consideration what these people have done for us, not only today but in the past. We need to consider the words that we offer, so that it paints a full picture of our sincere appreciation for what we have been given.