Ho'da'ah – Gratitude – Saving the World, Part 1

I’ve mentioned that I’m in a course that teaches using Torah principles in counseling and couching. My coaching buddy “Medium sized Mike,” has been encouraging me to go forward on my writing projects. One of them was a little pamphlet I’d like to publish on Ho’da’ah. It’s based on a talk I gave at a siyum, which I probably won’t post on the blog. It’s a really good first time little publication idea.
So he wouldn’t let me alone about it (I mean, he was very positive and encouraging, and we worked on techniques to help with writer’s block – in this case procrastination etc…) Well, the major second draft is done! So I’m going to post it up in a few installments so I can get your feedback before I polish it. When I’m done I’ll give it its own page.
Here goes:

Gratitude – The Key to Personal Power, the Love of Self and Others, and Saving the World

Simply Thank You

The Hebrew word for gratitude, ho’da’ah, has other definitions as well: it can connote the confession of a sin, a concession to another person’s position in an argument, or the admission of a debt.
It is easy to compare a person’s monetary debt to the moral debt generated when one wrongs another –both instances involve one person owing the other. The idea of thanks, however, seems quite different from the other definitions of ho’da’ah. When we admit to a wrong or a debt, the focus seems to be on us and the fact that we owe them, but when we thank someone we acknowledge the other party and what they did for us – we put the focus on them.[1]
This apparent contradiction in meaning really stands out in light of the Midrash’s use of the two meanings of the word ho’da’ah. Bereishis Rabbah tells us that:
Because [our matriarch Leah] was modah in thanks, she had a son who was modeh, as the pasuk says “Va’yaker Yehudah, And Yehudah recognized/admitted.”[2] And in turn she merited having David HaMelech as her offspring, who also thanked Hashem: “Hodu La’Shem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo, Thank Hashem for He is good, His kindness is forever.”
Surely the principle of middah k’neged middah, which tells us that good deeds are rewarded in turn, is not fulfilled with a mere play on words! And being the great-grandmother of the redeemer of Israel is quite a prize for saying “Thanks.” What is this telling us?
There are no coincidences in the holy tongue. What is the common denominator between these seemingly disparate concepts? How can they be contained within the same word?

Torah Gratitude

Chazal tell us that the essence of a word can always be gleaned by its first reference in the Torah. When we look to the source, we will find the deep essence of the word ho’da’ah.
The gemora in Brachos 7b, recounts the first time that anyone thanked Hashem:
Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai said, “From the day that Hashem created His world there was no man who thanked Hashem until Leah came and thanked him. As the verse states ‘This time I will thank Hashem.’ (Bereishis 29)”[3]
The Iyun Ya’akov explains that when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said “no man that thanked Hashem,” he was actually contrasting Leah with Adam HaRishon, the first man. Adam could have thanked Hashem for his wife and acknowledged the good – “it is not good for man to live alone” – instead he was a kafui tov, an ingrate (lit. one who denies good) who denied his benefactor.
Bereish Rabbah, commenting on the pasuk “The woman which you gave…” further describes the incident:
Hashem knocked on the pitchers of four men, and found the pitchers filled with urine. They were: Adam, Kayin, Bilaam, Chezkiyahu. Adam said “The woman which you gave me,” Kayin said “….” Bilaam said “….” And Chezkiyahu “….”.
All of these men were found at fault for not owning up to their behavior. The Pirush Maharzu on the Midrash emphasizes this in regards to Adam:
Adam’s foolishness was in that he should have said “I sinned.” He instead excused himself as if he was not at fault, and he further denied her goodness by saying there is only bad in her, not good.
When we analyze the Midrash we come to an amazing conclusion: Adam’s main sin was not in eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge – his real sin was not admitting what he had done, and not admitting the good Hashem did for Adam in giving him his wife Chava. If Adam would have past his test, he could have entered Olam HaBa without the need for a six thousand year world cycle. Something in the admission of a wrong and giving gratitude for benefit received is vital to man’s very mission – both of these are equally necessary and obviously connected.
Again, how so? And what is so crucial about admitting guilt and giving thanks? In light of the Midrash and the Maharzu, they fulfill the very purpose of the world!

See the exciting continuation in Part II !!


[1] It is also possible to ask what the subtle difference is between hoda’ah, and hakaras ha’tov – the trait of recognizing the good one has received.
[2] He recognized the cloak and staff that Tamar sent him as his own, and he admitted what he had done.
[3] The obvious question here is how it is possible that none of the tzaddim up until now thanked Hashem. (Adam HaRishon wrote Mizmor Shir Yayom HaShabbos!) An answer I particularly enjoy is the Daas Sofer’s: Of course many people thanked Hashem, but Leah was the first give herself a constant reminder of her gratitude. He reads the verse as follows: “Ha pa’am odeh es Hashem?, Only this time will I thank Hashem? This is why she named her son Yehudah, for the root ho’da’ah, to remind herself to always thank Hashem.)

Big Ideas

One Reply to “Ho'da'ah – Gratitude – Saving the World, Part 1”

  1. B”H
    Hey Shmuel –
    Very good!! One thing I hate is what I call “victim” behavior. One needs to be responsible for what one does or doesn’t do. To say “It wasn’t my fault,” or “What could I do given the circumstance?” or “He/she made me do it.” is just a cop out.
    Some of the magic words I’ve learned in my life are things my mother taught me. Words like:
    1) Please
    2) Thank you
    3) I’m sorry
    4) It was my fault
    5) Let me try to help you
    Kol Tuv!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.