Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

The Magic Word

Ki Tavo

One of the best antidotes for both anxiety and depression consists of a single word: Thank you.

What is the magic in the word “Thank you”?

Saying “thank you” implies two things: 1) I received something valuable from someone and 2) it is (usually) something that was not owed to me.

What does it have to do with anxiety and depression?

One of the causes for anxiety is the fear that things won’t work out. When you are grateful to receive something, you reaffirm the fact that you are not a lonely being. For things to work out, you don’t have to think only about your own abilities; there were other people in the past who have accompanied you and you can expect them or someone else to help you in the future as well.

One of the causes for depression is feeling unloved and unvalued. When you are grateful, you reaffirm that you received something from someone who loves you. It helps you love yourself more, as well.

In this [last] week’s reading, Ki Tavo [1], we read about the important place that gratitude has in Judaism. The Parashah opens with the obligation we have to bring the first fruits of our fields to “the place that G-d will choose to make his name dwell there” (eventually, Jerusalem) to thank G-d for the abundance with which he blessed our agricultural efforts.

But there is an interesting detail to be highlighted: 

When the Jewish people entered the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, it took them seven years to conquer it and seven more to distribute it among the twelve tribes of Israel. Rashi points out that the obligation to bring the Bikurim, the first fruit, began only when the last one received his plot of land in the distribution.

Why did one have to wait seven years until the last one received his share in order to bring the first fruits of his field as an expression of thanks and celebration of his success?

The Rebbe —may his merit protect us—  explains that there is a very important lesson here. Until the very last one received his plot, there cannot be full joy even for the first one who has already received his. We are all interdependent and we cannot celebrate fully until everyone is in a position to celebrate.

In addition to the great lesson here about solidarity and responsibility towards others, there is also a tool to help combat distress and depression. A good way to achieve full personal happiness is to be concerned about the happiness of others. In order to feel more joy and satisfaction with personal achievements, help others realize their own.

Dedicated in honor of the Yoirtzait of my grandmother Menucha Vitkah Lazaroff, A”H. 15 Elul, 5768.

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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