In a short time, the month of Elul begins on the Hebrew calendar. As the month before Rosh Hashana, Elul is an auspicious time to seek forgiveness from those who we have wronged, so that we can then approach God for forgiveness.
I suggest that Elul can also be a time to approach others not only to beg forgiveness, but to give thanks. You see, there is a value in Judaism called hakarat ha-tov, recognition of the good. It may very well include two ideas:
- That we should recognize good that exists everywhere in our world, in ourselves and in one another.
- That we should acknowledge good that another has done for us.
So, this year, I am initiating the practice of hakarat ha-tov, acknowledging the good, as my new minhag, my new custom, for every Elul to follow. Since this has been the year in which I have reconnected with literally dozens of people from my past through social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, my hakarat ha-tov list is going to go pretty far back in my history. But I do owe gratitude to those that I never thanked, or didn’t thank quite enough. I hope this list inspires others to adopt the practice of hakarat ha-tov, whether as part of the High Holiday season, or year-round.
Sorry for the long list…I have 55 years to make up. Here goes:
- Thanks to the Hebrew School teacher – probably long deceased – who taught me aleph bet (in those days, aleph bais). If it wasn’t for her, I couldn’t have become a Jewish educator and rabbi
- Thanks to the kids who were my friends, even when I was self-righteous and arrogant
- Thanks to my parents. Their lives were not easy, their parenting imperfect. But they invested in me to the best of their abilities
- Thanks to the high school teacher who taught me that Torah was not just rules about what you can’t do, but is wisdom meant to apply to real life situations
- Thanks to a friend who made a comment that only I remember; a brief sentence that said: Dude, life is not just about you. Changed my life.
- Thanks to people who don’t even remember that they suggested I read books that would make a difference in my career and in my personal outlook. You were right. I did need to read what you suggested — Judaism as a Civilization, the JPS Torah Commentary, Yehuda Amichai’s poetry, among others
- Thanks to people who shied away from me when I was younger, then inexplicably reached out to me for friendship decades later. We lost so much time, but you’re important in my life today
- Thanks to my students and to congregants who tolerated my inexperience and allowed me to learn from teaching them
- Thanks to my teachers in my rabbinical program and in several rounds of university courses of study. I still quote you and your wisdom
- Thanks to my wife and kids. Like my students, you tolerated (and still tolerate) my inexperience and gave me the privelege of being your husband and father
- Thanks to you, who read my blog and allow me to believe that I have something to teach and share. Most importantly, thanks to those who comment on the blog, helping me to deepen and correct my thoughts.
Who do YOU need to thank?