Sefer Devarim is full of tidbits on how to be a good member of the tribe. In preparing to enter into the holy land, Benei Yisrael is taught to love God, love the people around them, and remember their past as a way to help form their future.
Amidst that, there’s a hidden gem right here in Ekev about the proper way to express gratitude.
After being told about the beautiful, flowing, and abundant land they will be imminently entering, Benei Yisrael is reminded to thank God for all that they have: “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to your God for the good land given to you”
Embedded in this wording is a parenting lesson in how to say ‘thank you,’ something every single parent says to their child and, hopes that their child will reciprocate as well.
Now picture this, your child cleaned up their toys, finally, so you say “Thanks for cleaning up!” Sound familiar?
How about the kind older neighbor who, with your permission of course, gives your child a lollypop? You remind your child to say thank you. “Thaaaank you” your child parrots. But what is it that we are trying to model for our children with these two words? Is it a calculated instruction on the appropriate social norms in a civilized society? That at any given moment, they know when to say thank you? Or, is it that we want them to understand what they have been given, learn to appreciate what they have, and then internalize the importance of giving back?
I imagine you want the latter.
So what does “Ve’Achalta Ve-savata” have to teach us about how to teach our children gratitude?
If Moshe wanted Benei Yisrael to simply say “Thank you” to God and move on, he would have said just that. The Torah does not use extra words unecessarily. But instead, Moshe reminds Benei Yisrael not to just “give thanks to God” but that they are “giving thanks to God for the good land He has given to them.” Benei Yisrael aren’t preprogrammed automatons – instead, they know what they are thanking God for, and why it’s important. They ate. They are satisfied. Their bellies are full! And now they are thanking God for the confluence of blessings and good fortune that enabled it all.
Surely this “appreciative” way of expressing gratitude is more meaningful and beautiful than a rote recitation. It’s similar to later in the Parsha, when Benei Yisarel is taught to love and take in strangers. It’s not a reflexive action – but one that stems from true appreciation. We remember how it was to be strangers in Mitrayim!
Now circling back to our own interactions with our children.
It’s so easy to tell our children “thank you” or “good job”, or “that was so nice” without explaining what we’re referring to, or why it was so good or nice. We say the magic words and then we move on.
Probably we do this because we assume it’s obvious, we’re distracted, or it’s just faster and easier.
But instead, after your child cleans up their mess of a bedroom or playroom, try saying:
“You cleaned up your mess! Now we have a clean space where we can play something new!”
And when your kindly neighbor provides tomorrow’s lollypop, perhaps prompt your child to say “Wow! This is so sweet and tasty, thank you!”
By giving our children the gift of intentionality at a young age, of encouraging them to say why these meaningful things are truly meaningful, we can help them develop a deeper appreciation for the things around them. After all, Benei Yisrael is not just told to give thanks, but to “give thanks to your God for the good land given to you.”
Gratitude is not to be taken for granted. It is something that needs to be taught.
For our children and all of Benei Yisrael alike.
וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ׃