As a child, I learned many things from my parents and my teachers. One lesson, however, sticks with me, maybe more than most. Every couple of months, my father would take me to get a haircut. And, after waiting in the chairs for a while, I would finally be called and a barber would take me to her chair and I would get my haircut. I would dread the next part. After it was over, my dad would pay the cashier. Then, he would give me some cash and tell me to walk over to the barber, thank her, and give her the tip. I found it so awkward. I did not know this person and talking to people I do not know has never been a strength of mine.
This was a ritual that I had to get used to because it happened fairly regularly. And when I look back on it, it was one of the most important lessons that I learned in life. In this week’s Parsha, Ekev, we are given a verse that is traditionally said in the blessing after meals. The verse states, “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you/וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ׃” This verse is the Scriptual reason for the required saying of the blessing after meals/birkat ha’mazon.
While it is a mitzvah with relative clarity, it has often been difficult for me. It is easier to ask for things and say nice things when we are in need. But when we feel satisfied, it seems much harder. I think this is at the heart of the mitzvah. It challenges us precisely because it is harder. The Talmud Yerushalmi mentions that this is one of few mitzvot that once done, one cannot do again to help others. For example, I could read the Megillah for various groups of people on Purim even after I read for myself. Maybe somebody else says the blessing, but I can still read for everyone. However, if I say the blessings after I ate something, and then somebody else needs me to do it for them, I cannot.
This may sound overly technical, but there is deep wisdom in this principle. When you have been given a gift or received something helpful, you have to say “thank you”. Nobody can help you and nobody can say it for you. I often say this to campers at the end of the summer. I tell them to thank their counselors, because nobody can do that for them. And that is what my father was trying to teach me many years ago. He could not say thank you for me. I had to learn to say it for myself.
This is a constant challenge in a day and age where we do so much for ourselves with the click of a button. But nothing beats looking another person in the eyes and thanking them for helping you. I encourage us this week to think of people who have been helpful to us lately. Try to find a time to see them face to face, look them in the eyes and say “thank you”. Nobody will do it for you.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.