To Say Thank You; Perchance To Feel Gratitude
By Rabbi Ephraim D. Becker
Issue No. 7
February 5, 1998
With apologies for the pause in my submissions, and with thanks for your
The Torah reveals a number of significant motivators in a person. One
such motivator is the need to repay kindness in kind. Only a person whose
soul is sold out can receive without feeling a sense of indebtedness. The
more sensitive the soul, the smaller the kindness for which one feels
indebted. A dull soul might only feel indebted to one who saved his life,
while a more refined soul could feel indebted for benefaction received even
if not intended by the doer (eg. He opened the door for himself but I was
able to take advantage of the open door to go in myself).
There are several ways by which we might address our in-born sense of
indebtedness. One way is to reduce our sense of indebtedness (which is a
humble pie, indeed) by avoiding receipt of kindnesses. By not receiving,
goes the logic, one need not be plagued by feelings of indebtedness.
Another, still weaker, response is to attempt to reduce the indebtedness
generated by the kindness by downplaying its significance (eg. He was going
there anyhow; he did it for himself, he's a crook and whatever I saved is
mine, anyway, etc.). Another method of addressing our tendency to
gratitude is by using money. As it has been said, ever since the
phoenicians invented money there has been only one way to say thank you.
That is a pity. Acquitting one's obligations in this way (while surely much
better than not addressing the obligation at all) does not fully capitalize
on the opportunity created by the indebtedness.
The most noble way to address our built-in tendency to indebtedness is
to celebrate it. That is to look forward to the humility and beholdeness
that comes with being a recipient. Gratitude moves us to acts of caring
and beneficence towards our benefactors; it forces us out of our
self-centeredness. In a word, gratitude is the best gift we have.
As a people of the Torah, we are instructed by G-d not to utterly
abhor the Egyptians, our ancient taskmasters, since we found refuge there
from the famine that gripped us in Canaan. Surely our hosts acted out of
pure self-interest. Yet we were in need and there they were, self-interest
We even find reference to the fact that some of us refrain from truly
asking G-d to address our deepest needs and desires for fear of the
indebtedness created by the granting of our request. We can see, then,
that repaying a kindness is not just an act, it is a powerful drive, with
potential to draw us closer to one another upon discovery of kindnesses
received, or driving us away from one another in an effort to avoid the
implications of being a beneficiary. We would do well to regard this drive
Thank you for listening.