The Word: Hakarat Hatov



With a nod to Thanksgiving tomorrow, this week’s Word (which is a phrase, because I cheat like that) comes from our Jewish brothers and sisters. Hakarat Hatov literally means “recognizing the good.” It’s a practice of giving thanks for the good things all around us. Hakarat hatov is about acknowledging all that is already yours, and being content with it. It’s an attitude of humility that says, even in trial, even in difficulty, even in strenuous circumstances, I can recognize the good in my situation.

I love that in Jewish tradition the reason Moses does not strike the Nile with a plague (Aaron does it) is because Moses is indebted to the river for saving his life when he was a baby. Out of hakarat hatov, he cannot bring harm to the river. This act of seeing the good, of recognizing it and acknowledging it, extends to everything, including rivers and animals and inanimate objects. It is a practice of seeing how we are reliant upon God and upon others and upon creation itself for all that we have. We are not self-reliant. When we recognize the good, we recognize our connection and need. We recognize our inter-dependence. And we return to our Source, who is God.

Another example of hakarat hatov in Jewish tradition is that on Shabbat, when the kiddush (blessing) is said over the wine, the bread is covered with a cloth. Since the bread is considered more important than the wine, the bread is covered as an act of hakarat hatov to the wine. Those gathered around the table can see the full goodness of the wine when it is not being compared to the bread, which might overshadow it. I love that hakarat hatov honors the idea of upholding things/people rather than embarrassing them. We could stand to practice more of that in our culture, and especially on social media. When we belittle or embarrass anyone or anything, we are not practicing hakarat hatov. We are ungrateful, and that is a slap in the face of God.

Tomorrow offers us an opportunity to practice hakarat hatov. No matter our circumstances, no matter our lot, no matter whether the gravy turns out lumpy or not, we can have eyes to find the good, to see the good, and to honor the good in what is all around us. And we can seek to lift up rather than belittle or humiliate those around us, including our most prickly family members, remembering that God’s image shines even in them, even in us.

Happy Thanksgiving! May God give us eyes to see the good, today and always.


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