• Rabbi Rubanowitz

Vayetze - 5778/2017~ Thanks For Nothing-De Nada!

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I remember one of my daughter’s having great difficulty understanding why I insisted that they say “Thank You”. It was at an amusement park arcade , and after having tried and failed to win the coveted stuffed animals,  a couple handed us their truly giant wins, a huge lion and a panda. While they won them fair and square, they did not want to schlep them around the park and were more than happy to give them to such nice looking and well behaved children. I, however, wouldn’t let the children leave -or take the gifts away-without making sure they thanked their benefactors profusely. 

Fregt (ask)  the Kinderlach:  “Tati, why should we say thank you. They said they didn’t want them anymore! We were doing them a favor by taking the toys! They were going to throw them out or leave them there!”.

That made me think twice. I am not sure what I answered them at the time, but this Thanksgiving, in the most unlikely of places, the answer hit me in the face: While we call it ThanksGIVING, it’s really about knowing how to receive. 

The epiphany hit me yesterday as I  was sitting in front of Horav Yitzchak Yosef, Shlit”a, Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi and son of the late Hagaon Harav Ovadia Yosef Of Blessed Memory, also Israel’s Chief Rabbi and “Rishon L’Tziyon”. He was delivering a riveting, exciting lecture on the laws of Shabbat, and in his father’s genius style, wove intricate detailed Halachic Analyses and his encyclopedic knowledge of Torah and Rabbinic sources with inspirational stories, personal anecdotes and a healthy dose of humor-too often missing from Rabbinic lectures of these kinds.

In the midst of the Chief Rabbi’s discussion of one of his father’s rulings which his father had actually retracted, admitting his error or misapplication of a ruling, he reminisced about his father’s admonishment to him as a young student, to never be afraid to admit when you are wrong-no matter how much you know or how trifle the issue. He recalled the Rabbinic Idiom “Modim D’rabbanan Hino Shvachayhu”-“The Rabbi’s Modim is indeed their praise”, the “Rabbi’s Modim” being a  playful take on the Modim prayer we say during the repetition of the silent Prayer. The “joke” is as follows: the Modim prayer is really a THANK YOU prayer. The Hebrew word “Toda” is rooted in The Hebrew derivation of Hodaaa, as in “Hodu Lahashem”-“give thanks to g-d”. “Modim Anachnu Lach” in the silent prayer is: “We thank you Hashem”. But the chief Rabbi referenced a well-known play on words: Modim also means something else. It means to ADMIT. Thus, “Modim Drabanan”-even the greatest person should never be afraid to admit when he or she is wrong… When the Rabbis do that-“Hino Shvachayhu”-“that indeed is the very praise that can be given to them-recognition of their ability to admit when they are wrong.

While the similarity of verbiage was fodder for word play  by the Chief Rabbi I don’t believe the etyymoligical connection between the words is any accident. Think of  how some cultures respond to “Thank You”. In Spanish-language countries: “De Nada”. In Israel: “Halo Davar” (“it was nothing”), as in “don’t even think of it-you didn’t take me out of my way at all! I didn’t really do anything of value for you-no need for thanks! That response belies a stark recognition. When we thank people we are essentially admitting that we needed the other-that the other provided value to us. We are saying, We are MODEH to you that we are not self-sufficient islands with no need for the benevolence of others. We are not Gods that know and have everything and are capable of anything. We are humans. We have needs. We can be and are vulnerable. We admit to our weakness and neediness.. Thank you is really a statement of admission-and humility. Every Toda, is really a Hodaah.

Yes, if a thank you is just about the value we received, if it’s about the giver, then my daughter was right. Why thank he amusement park couple for giving us beautiful giant stuffed animals? They didn’t want them anyway! It was “De Nada” for them!

But when we focus on the receiving end, when we realize that a thank you is not just a statement of acknowledging a “giver”, but an admission that we are receivers-that weam not the “be-all and “end-all”, we open ourselves up to truly understanding the gift of thanks.

Yaakov in this week’s reading-acknowledged that when he received “bread to eat and clothing to wear”, “Hashem will be his G-d”. When our “Thank Yous” to others-and to Hashem include this admission of vulnerability and humility, we will merit with Hashem’s help, to ADMIT Blessings, Happiness and Success into every sphere of our lives.

Good Shabbos, and Happy Thanksgiving to All: Hodu L’Hashem Ki Tov!

Shalom Rubanowitz

Lichvod Shabat, enjoy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MScVEbVjAVc&list=RDMScVEbVjAVc

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