D’var Torah: Parshat Hukkat and the Gift of Gratitude
Is gratitude the key to happiness? Hakarat Hatov – the Hebrew phrase for gratitude – literally means “recognizing the good.” Gratitude allows us to see what is good in our lives and appreciate what we have. When we do that, we are less likely to succumb to jealousy or to feel bad about what we don’t have. When we say the Modim (thanks) prayer in the Amidah, we are thanking God for many things, including the daily miracles of life. There is a second version of this prayer that the congregation says when the leader is reciting the repetition of the Amidah that further highlights the importance of gratitude. The prayer seems to be saying “we thank you for the ability to thank you.” (There’s a great comment on this in the new Lev Shalem Siddur p. 164).
In this week’s Torah portion, Hukkat, we have the famous story of Moshe hitting the rock. Miriam has died and the well that was associated with her and followed the Israelites through the desert has disappeared. The people complain, as they often do, that they are thirsty. Interestingly, God doesn’t seem mad at the people for complaining in this instance, and simply instructs Moshe to speak to the rock. Moshe, for whom I have great sympathy and perhaps even some empathy, has had it: he hits the rock to make the water flow. The biggest takeaway from this story is that Moshe’s action sentences him to not being able to enter the land of Israel.
Upon reading the story this time something else struck me. The people didn’t say thank you. There was absolutely no gratitude for the miracle of water coming from the rock. The Israelites feel entitled. This got me thinking about all the complaining the Israelites had done even in the face of all the miracles that God had performed. They seemed to be always complaining that they were worse off now that they were free than when they were slaves in Egypt.
The death of Miriam reminded me that she played a crucial role in the last time the Israelites had expressed gratitude. After the Israelites crossed the sea, she led the women in dance (and song), as did Moshe with the men. There was unbridled joy and gratefulness. It seems to me that the Israelites lost their ability to dance, to sing, to laugh and to express gratitude. In many ways, I think this is why that generation did not merit the right to enter the land.
Our Nivonim edah traditionally dances “The Miriam Dance” on the first Shabbat at camp. Everyone is so happy and grateful to be here in our wonderful Ramah home. This summer, let us dedicate ourselves to seeing the good, to being thankful for what we have and to express this gratitude together in song and dance. We should be grateful for the ability to be grateful.