Thank you.

Simple words, gigantic meaning.

After her fourth son was born, our foremother Leah said, “ThisIt was not so easy all those years time let me gratefully praise G‑d,” and she named him Yehuda, which comes from the root, “to thank.” In Hebrew, a Jew is “Yehudi,” from the same root.

We really should learn how to thank.

My daughters have always organized a mini-day camp in our house in the days leading up to the various holidays. This means that 15 little girls are in our living room, in our bathroom and in our yard, while I am preparing the house for our guests and the holidays. I am more than happy to do this because it keeps my daughters busy, they make a little money, and it provides a service to the neighbors. Still, it was not so easy all those years.

One day I was in a store and saw one of the mothers of our day-camp clientele. I thought to myself, “She really should come up to me and thank me for the years that I hosted her children in my house. In fact, why didn’t she ever call me in all these years to thank me for watching her daughters?”

The mother didn’t say anything in that store, though nodded a hello and goodbye.

Many therapists have suggested a “gratefulness notebook,” particularly for people who are going through depression. Throughout the day, they are encouraged to write down every small and large event for which they are grateful. The evidence suggests that this definitely helps the client in overcoming depression.

Before the advent of modern psychology, the Torah prescribed this ancient recipe for happiness. From the first moment that we open our eyes and say the 12-word prayer “Modeh Ani” to the last moment before we close our eyes at night, we are thanking G‑d. All day long, we say blessings, essentially thanking G‑d for smells, tastes, sights and a myriad of experiences.

To be a Jew is to thank.

There was a certain rabbi who unfortunately had a stroke and was unable to speak. He needed to begin to learn to speak again, though there was nothing wrong with his mind. When the speech therapist asked him which word he wanted to re-learn first, he wrote the Hebrew word toda—“thank you.”

In fact, after the typical first words “mother” and “father,” we often teach our toddlers the word todah. Isn’t that a remarkable part of a child’s education? First, you learn to name the people who created and support you, and then you learn to be grateful to them.

We learn to thank G‑d by first learning to thank our parents because like them, G‑d is our Creator and our Supporter. And when we express gratitude, it’s not merely an exercise in etiquette; it’s building ourselves into a conduit of gratefulness. So we accustom ourselves to thanking the Almighty for the good things in life.

What about the bad stuff?

There is a dictum in the Talmud that states, “Just as we bless the good, we bless the bad.” The idea is that because everything is from G‑d, by definition, everything is good because G‑d is good. However, from our point of view, in our space and time, things might not always look so rosy. This dictum affirms the idea that even though things may look bad here and now, ultimately, even though we can’t always see how, they are good and good for us.

It is a challenge to find the positive in something negative that has happened. Still, I must say that I know quite a few examples where the bad actually turned out to be good.

Here is one.

My daughter wasn’t accepted to a certain high school. We were, of course, very disappointed. She ended up going to another school, from which she left early, went to Russia to volunteer, came home and was immediately accepted to an excellent program, studying what she always wanted toIt is challenging to find the positive in something negative that has happened study, She ended up marrying a boy who had also gone to Russia. The fact that she didn’t go to that particular school set up a scenario where she eventually met the person she married.

Often, however, we don’t see the end, or the end seems bad. Perhaps though, because of all the times when we saw the “good guys win,” we can nurture the faith and the confidence that this, too, will pass on to good. And if not in this world, then in the next.

Now back to the story I began before.

After I saw the mother in the store, I turned around and noticed Mrs. Firestone. Mrs. Firestone has had a Kabbalat Shabbat gathering every Friday evening in her house for years. About 50 girls squeeze into her living room; she sings with them and tells stories. In the end, they each receive a toffee treat.

Now, did I ever think to call her up and thank her for the years of giving up her Friday evenings for my daughters, while I am able to relax or lie down? I was too embarrassed to go up to her in the store. I would have to save that “thank you” for another time.

Merci, gracias, yashar koach.

It all comes down to being grateful.