A number of years ago, someone, who I guess felt I could use some motivation, gave me a CD of Tony Robbins to listen to. I was excited to hear what one of the most inspirational people of modern times would have to say and how it could change my life for the better.
He started his talk by saying that he has the secret to both happiness and success. If you follow his advice and begin each day of your life exactly as he prescribes, he can all but guarantee that you will find yourself happier, achieving your goals and dreams. I, like everyone else, want to be happy and I try to be successful in everything I do. So I was very eager to hear: what would he say next? what is the secret?
The secret to happiness and to achieving success, he said, is to start every day of your life by expressing gratitude. As soon as you wake up, before doing anything else, say “thank you.” Be grateful and appreciative for being alive, having a roof over your head, having your health if you are lucky, your family, and so on.
He continued that it isn’t enough to think appreciatively. You need to start your day by verbalizing and actually saying “thank you” out loud. If you do, the rest of your day is guaranteed to be successful and happy.
What Tony Robbins is teaching in the 21st century, Judaism has taught since its inception thousands of years ago. From an early age, we teach our children to wake up saying modeh ani lefanecha, I am grateful to you, G-d, for the fact that I woke up, that I am alive to see another day, for the wonderful blessings in my life and for my relationship with You. It has been inculcated within us from our youth that we don’t wake up feeling entitled, deserving and demanding. Rather, we wake up with a deep and profound sense of gratitude, appreciation and thanks.
In my experience, Tony Robbins is absolutely correct. How we start our day has an incredible impact on how the rest of it will go. This coming Wednesday night and Thursday, we will celebrate Lag Ba’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer (the forty-nine days between the Pesach and Shavuot). Each day of the Omer is characterized by another kabbalistic attribute. Lag Ba’Omer is hod she’b’hod, the glory of glory, reflecting our appreciation of G-d’s greatness and glory. Alternatively, though, hod can be understood as coming from the same word as hodu, or modeh, meaning thanks. Lag Ba’Omer is a day characterized as thankfulness within thankfulness, or a day to celebrate gratitude.
The Chassam Sofer, Rav Moshe Sofer, says that the miraculous manna that fell from Heaven began to descend on Lag Ba’omer. On the first day, the manna was undoubtedly greeted with great enthusiasm and appreciation. But as time went on and there was an increasing expectation that the heavenly bread would descend, it became much easier to take it for granted and to forget to be appreciative for it at all. Lag Ba’omer, therefore, is a time that we identify and say thank you for all of the blessings that regularly descend into our lives–but unfortunately, like the manna, that we take for granted.
It is so easy to fall into a sense of entitlement and to forget to be grateful. Why should I thank my children’s teachers? They are just doing their job. Why should I be appreciative of the waiter, or the custodian, or the stewardess? Isn’t that what they are supposed to do?
When is the last time we said thank you to whomever cleans our dirty laundry? Do we express gratitude regularly to our spouse who shops, cooks dinner, or who worked all day to pay for dinner–or in some cases did both?
On Thursday, as we celebrate Lag Ba’Omer, let’s not just say modeh ani in the morning and then quickly transition to feelings of entitlement. Let’s remember to say thank you to the people who do extraordinary things in our lives. Even more importantly, let’s especially express gratitude to the people who do the ordinary things that make our lives so filled with blessing.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 650 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. In 2010 he was recognized as one of South Florida’s Most Influential Jewish Leaders. He serves as Co-Chair of the Orthodox Rabbinical Board’s Va’ad Ha’Kashrus, as Director of the Rabbinical Council of America’s South Florida Regional Beis Din for Conversion, and as Posek of the Boca Raton Mikvah.