Walking through the anti-Semitic ridden streets of Kaunus, Lithuania, I found myself being accosted with expressions of disgust, such as “zhid” or “dirty Jew.” As I heard these words being yelled at me I felt a surge of pride overwhelm me . What they had intended as a shameful derogatory insult, I accepted as a compliment, a badge of honor that I wore with pride. Why?
In this week’s parsha Leah names her fourth son Yehuda from the root הודאה –thanksgiving saying, “This time I will thank Hashem.” It appears that Leah thanks Hashem only after she had her fourth son? Rashi explains that Leah through Divine Inspiration knew that the twelve tribes of Israel would come from her husband Yaakov and his four wives. According to her calculations each of his four wives would give birth to three sons. When she had her fourth, she realized that she had merited a larger portion in the future of the nation than the others, and for this she thanked Hashem. The Jewish Nation shares this name as we are called “יהודים,” symbolizing the essence of a Jew; gratitude. A powerful lesson is derived from here regarding the concept of gratitude. Whatever we have is a gift from Him; Hashem in His infinite kindness bestows us with so much good – more than we deserve. Each moment that we’re alive and healthy is a gift not to be taken for granted.
Ideally, one expresses appreciation when things are good. The topic of gratitude is very apropos when Thanksgiving is being celebrated. Though everybody likes turkey and a day off Jews don’t need a designated day for thanksgiving since our entire lives are designated to thank the Creator. A Jew wakes up each morning with the words “Modeh Ani,” a statement of thanks to Hashem for returning our souls to us.
In Psalms, the words “’טוב להודות לה” – “It is good to praise God,” teach us that praising God is beneficial to the person that praises. When one goes through day to day life with an attitude of gratitude he will live a happier, content, and blessed life. A student of Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l, a renowned rabbi, author, and lecturer, once observed an interesting spectacle. He watched as the esteemed rabbi repeatedly held his breath for a short while before going to the open window and taking a deep breath. Intrigued by the scene he had witnessed he questioned his rabbi about it. Rabbi Miller answered, “I always wanted to thank Hashem fully for every breath I breathe and by holding in my breath and then breathing a breath of fresh air I can truly thank Hashem for every breath.”
In Judaism gratitude is the basis of everything. Only when we feel grateful for even the minute details in our lives can we better serve Hashem and live happier lives. Many try to chase after happiness as that is one of the foundations of our country – “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Pursuing happiness doesn’t really pan out. The title “יהודי -Jew” is something we wear with pride. My favorite song is that which is sung in TheZone – “I’m a Jew, I’m a Jew and I’m proud to be one too!” The term Jew is diametrically opposite to a derogatory term, it is a title we are proud to wear. So the next time you hear anyone call you “Jew” or see the word Jew sprayed in graffiti, accept the compliment and feel proud.
Reuven Vershubsky, TheZone camp head counselor