Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thanking is More Than Saying "Thank You"

Ever wonder why children have to be taught, sometimes with great difficulty, to say "thank you"? I think it is because they know something that we have forgotten.

In describing the thanksgiving sacrifice (korban todah), the 19th century Italian biblical scholar Shadal (quoted by Ha-Kesav Ve-Ha-Kabbalah on Lev. 7:12 and Nehama Leibowitz in New Studies on Vayikra, vol. 1 p. 77) explains that thanking someone implies not just a feeling of gratitude but also submission. The thanker is turned into a recipient of graciousness from the more powerful provider.

Click here to read moreShadal points to Eichah (Lamentations) 5:6: "מצרים נתנו יד We have given our hand to Egypt". This verse is describing a tragedy associated with the destruction of the Second Temple, but it is difficult to understand the incident to which it is referring. Isn't giving Egypt a hand showing our power? Rashi explains the verse as referring to someone who has fallen down and reaches out his hand to be helped out. Ibn Ezra says that it implies swearing (raising one's hand) in allegiance. Shadal, however, suggests that the word yad comes from the same root as thanking (ydh) and the phrase means that Israel has thanked Egypt, showing its submission to Egypt's greater power. Indeed, in the grace after meals we ask God not to make us dependent on other people's beneficence. Saying "thank you" implies that one is, in fact, dependent on another person's grace.

We adults, however, tend to forget this. Words come out of our mouths without thought as to their meaning. They're just words. I suspect that children, though, understand what "thank you" really means. That is why they are so hesitant to say it. They want their independence. Perhaps in this respect, understanding the intent of words, we can take a lesson from children. Rather than refuse to say "thank you", we can say it and mean it.

I am reminded by this of the quote from R. Shraga Silverstein that I recently posted to this blog (link):

Some are quite willing to admit their mistakes because it really makes very little difference to them whether they are or not mistaken. In this respect one who is reluctant to admit his mistakes may have more of a respect and a concern for the truth than one who admits them freely.
To me, this was a reminder of how easily words flow from our mouths without our thinking twice about them. We need to mean what we say.

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