The origin of the word “Jew” (Yehudi) comes from the Bible, in the book of Genesis. It is derived from the name of Judah, the son of Jacob.
When Yehudah (Judah) was born, his mother Leah said, “This time I will thank the Lord.” (hudah = thank)
After Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah, she was flooded with harsh feelings of being unwanted and even hated. These feelings are reflected in the names of her first two sons: Reuben and Simeon.
When Reuben was born, Leah said, “…the Lord has seen my poverty.” She felt invisible, like no one could see the pitiable state she was in. She felt “lean-ness” in her soul. (Reu = see)
When Shim’on (Simeon) was born, Leah said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated.” (Shm’ = hear)
With the birth of her third son Levy, Leah begins to hope for the best. “This time my husband will accompany me.” (Levy = accompany)
And when Yehudah (Judah) is born, Leah finally feels at peace and happy with her life; and she expresses this with the name she gives her son.
Yehudah. “This time I will thank the Lord.” (hudah = thank)
A few decades later Judah becomes the leader of the family, and eventually from his descendants comes the Messiah. And the people of Israel become known as Yehud-im (“Jews”). In the Book of Esther we find a mention of this.
“There was a Jewish man in Shushan, the capital; and his name was Mordechai ben Yair, a Benjamite.” (Esther 2:5)
Judaism involves giving thanks. Gratitude is a deeply rooted and integral part of Jewish life. Gratitude as a worldview is an idea that has the power to elevate our souls and our lives. Scientific research provides evidence for this idea.
In religious Judaism the first words one says in the morning prayer, upon awakening after a night’s sleep, are:
“I thank you…” (Modeh ani lefanecha…)
Even before the “self” there is the gratitude, thanksgiving: that I woke up, that I am breathing, that I am alive. Nothing in life is to be taken for granted. Every morning we wake is a miracle and a wonder for which we should be thankful. In thanksgiving, we understand that not everything depends on us, that there is a higher power of God’s providence. At times we can almost tangibly feel heaven coming down to our aid.
In fact, prayer in Judaism is a continuous act of gratitude and recognizing what one has been given. We give thanks on a daily basis starting with the early morning prayer, for life, for our bodies, for our physical world, for the ground we stand on. In Judaism, nothing is taken for granted. The word Judaism (YaHaDut) comes from the root Y.D.H. That means gratitude should be a part of the DNA of the Jewish people. Gratitude is good for the mind, soul and body. It contributes to inner happiness and bodily health. And the more we thank and praise, the more we discover the good in our lives that deserves thanks. That’s how gratitude gets stronger in a self-reinforcing cycle.
Gratitude is an indication of what there is, not what is lacking. There is health; there is love; there is work-income; there is joy; there is family, and more and more. And the more we give thanks for what we have, the more we have in our lives, and the more we have to be thankful for.
“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good.” (Psalm 136) The more we repeat this giving of thanks and learn to mean it wholeheartedly, the more we will be able to perceive the good around us and in our lives.
For He is good!
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