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Tracing it Back to the Source

Last week, we learned how hakaras hatov (expressing gratitude) to Hashem is the ultimate purpose of Creation (at least according to what Hashem revealed to us). The reason why Hashem created this entire world is that He wants us to recognize Him as our Creator and thank Him for giving us so many wonderful things. In order to be able to thank Hashem properly, we learned that a person must also practice thanking other people. By thanking other people, we strengthen our “gratitude muscles” – The more we train ourselves to notice all the ways we have benefitted from others, the closer we will be toward achieving a deep sense of gratitude to other people, and, ultimately, to our Creator.

Another way to practice feeling gratitude toward those who benefitted us is to train ourselves to think not only of the person who directly delivered the benefits to our doorstep, but also to think back through the entire chain of events of how these things got to us. For example, when we enjoy eating a slice of bread, we can thank not only the person who purchased the bread from the store, but also the cashier who packed the bread for us, and the farmer who originally harvested the wheat, and so on.

If a person trains himself to look at the world and wonder where everything came from, he will ultimately be able to acquire Emunah (belief in Hashem).

If a person trains himself to look at the world and wonder where everything came from, he will ultimately be able to acquire Emunah (belief in Hashem).

In fact, this is how Avraham Avinu learned to believe in Hashem. The Rambam1 explains: Before the time of Avraham Avinu, almost everyone in the world worshiped the sun, stars, and planets. Even Avraham’s own parents were idol worshipers! But when Avraham was a young boy, he started to wonder: How is it possible that the sun, stars, and planets are all constantly moving? There must be Someone who is moving all these stars and planets! It cannot be that they are moving on their own! Eventually, Avraham realized the truth, that there must be one G-d who is moving and leading everything – He must be the Creator and Source of everything, and there is no power other than Hashem.

By looking at the world and attempting to trace everything back to its ultimate Source, Avraham learned to believe in Hashem.

How Queen Esther Was Chosen to Help Bring the Redemption:

This middah of being able to trace things back to their source is an integral middah for every Jew to develop. The Gemara is very careful to always say teachings in the name of whoever originally said it, for example: “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Akiva…” Why is the Gemara so careful to list every Rabbi who originally said each idea?

The Gemara2 teaches: “Kol HaOmer Davar Bisheim Omro, Meivee Geulah LiOlam – Anyone who quotes an idea in the name of the person who originally said it, brings redemption to the world.” As an example, the Gemara explains how Queen Esther told King Achashveirosh that Bigsan and Seresh were plotting to kill the king – but Esther made sure to say it was Mordechai who originally uncovered this plot. She did not take credit for the idea herself, but rather attributed it to its source – Mordechai. Ultimately, Queen Esther was instrumental in saving the Jewish people from Haman’s evil decrees, thereby acting as a vehicle for the Jewish people’s redemption.

This Gemara is very puzzling. Yes, Queen Esther was instrumental in saving the Jewish people, but what does that have to do with the fact that she gave credit to Mordechai when she spoke to King Achashveirosh? How does tracing an idea back to its source bring the redemption closer?

To answer this question, the Maharal3 explains that if we train ourselves to constantly trace everything back to its original source, then we will be able to look at this world and trace it back to its ultimate Source – Hashem.

We will be able to look at this world and trace it back to its ultimate Source – Hashem.

Whenever Hashem redeems us from exile, He wants everyone to know that the redemption came from Him. Hashem does not want us to fall into the illusion of saying that it was our own strength, wisdom, or brilliant strategies that enabled us to win wars and defeat our enemies. That is why when Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt, Hashem told Moshe: “Egypt will realize that I am Hashem when… I take the Jewish people out from among them” (Shemos 7:5).

Similarly, when it came to saving the Jewish people from Haman’s evil decrees, Hashem wanted to make sure that whoever acted as the vehicle for this redemption would not take credit for themselves, but rather, they would give credit where credit is due – i.e. attributing the salvation to Hashem.

When Esther spoke to Achashveirosh and gave credit to Mordechai for uncovering the plot, she proved herself to be a person who gives credit where credit is due. If Esther would not have had this middah of tracing things back to their source, she might have later told her fellow Jews: “You know whom you should thank for saving you from Haman’s evil decrees? You should thank ME! I am the one who convinced King Achashveirosh to kill Haman, and therefore you should thank ME for saving the Jewish people from total annihilation!” If Esther would have had such an attitude of taking credit for herself, then Hashem would not have chosen to bring the redemption through her.

But Esther did not have this attitude. Rather, Esther was a person who traced things back to their source, and gave credit where credit was due. Therefore, Hashem chose to bring the redemption through Esther’s hands, because Hashem was confident that Esther would certainly attribute the redemption to Hashem, and encourage the Jewish people to thank Hashem for saving them.

Hashem was confident that Esther would certainly attribute the redemption to Hashem.

How We Can Learn From Queen Esther

Just as Esther was careful to give credit where credit was due, we, too, can practice tracing things back to their source and appreciating everyone involved in the process. For example, instead of thinking: “Wow, I am so great for making this delicious sandwich!” we should think: “Where did this sandwich come from? I didn’t make it on my own. I appreciate the farmer who harvested the wheat, and I appreciate Hashem who created the wheat to begin with!“*

Every time we say a brachah beginning with “Baruch Atah Hashem…” we practice tracing things back to their source. Although “Baruch” is often translated as “Blessed,” what it really means is “You [Hashem] are the Source of everything.”4 Hashem is the source of the bread we eat, the wine we drink for Kiddush, the chair we are sitting on, and everything else we enjoy in this world.

It’s hard to be thankful if we take everything for granted. The more we train ourselves to ask: Where did this come from? – the more we will be able to trace things back to their ultimate Source, and come to thank Hashem.

This week, we will practice noticing all the good things in our life and wondering where they came from… so that we can ultimately trace them all the way back to Hashem, and thank Hashem for all these blessings we enjoy.

*Note: Although we have listed each step in the process as its own step (the farmer, the cashier, etc.) the truth is that each of these intermediary people have zero power of their own. Hashem’s power is necessary for every single step in the process to occur. Hashem did not just create the wheat and then leave it on its own. Rather, Hashem is involved in every step of the process of getting the bread to our doorstep. Without Hashem investing power and energy into the farmer, his tools, the delivery truck, the storekeeper, etc. we would never have the bread at all.

Sources: [1] Hilchos Avodah Zarah Chapter 1, also Sfas Emes to Lech Lecha 673; [2] Megilla 15a; [3] Derech Chaim pg. 302; [4] Rabbeinu Bachaye’s Kad HaKemach on the word “Brachah”; also Daas Torah by Rav Yerucham Levovitz: Devarim pg. 116; also Rav Dessler’s Strive for Truth Vol. III. pg. 273

Your Challenge

To do every day this week, once a day:
Before you eat a food or benefit from another item, think of at least 3 people who were involved in the process of creating the item or getting it to you. (Try to visualize these steps in as much vivid detail as possible.)

Then, thank Hashem (out loud, or in your head) for creating this food or item, and for doing all these steps to bring it to you for your benefit and enjoyment!

Before eating an apple, think: How did this apple get here?

Well, there must have been:

  • Someone who planted an apple seed in the ground;
  • Someone who tended to the apple trees to make sure they got enough water and sunlight;
  • Someone who picked this apple off of a tree;
  • Someone who delivered this apple to a supermarket near me;
  • Someone who stocked the shelves in the supermarket with apples;
  • A cashier who helped me purchase the apple and bring it home.

… Wow! Thank you Hashem for causing all these processes to go on, all just so that I can enjoy eating this apple and gain energy and nutrition from it!

Torah Questions

  1. Who in the Torah demonstrated his or her hakaras hatov (gratitude) to inanimate objects? What did they do (or not do) to demonstrate this gratitude? (Hint: See Shemos 7:19)
  2. Moshe Rabbeinu taught the daughters of Yisro a lesson that one must feel appreciation for ANYONE who benefitted you – even if they did not INTEND to help you at all! Who did Moshe tell the daughter of Yisro to feel appreciation for? What did that person do to benefit them? (See Shemos 2:18 and Shemos Rabbah 1:32)
  3. Where in Shoshanas Yaakov (sung on Purim) do we thank someone who played a seemingly very minor role in saving us from Haman’s evil decree? And maybe this person did not even have the best intentions in mind?
  4. When were the Jewish people kafoi tov in the desert? What did they fail to appreciate? (Hint: See Bamidbar 21:5)

Questions to Ponder

  1. The Sefer Chochmah U’Mussar (2:11) writes that when a person does not have hakaras hatov, they are destroying the world! How can you explain this? How does a lack of hakaras hatov destroy the world? And, on the flip side, how does hakaras hatov build up the world?
  2. Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz writes (Cheilek Rishon, Drush 15) that the source of all sins is that a person fails to appreciate all the good that Hashem has done for him. Why do you think being kafoi tov is the source of all sins? And, on the flip side, how can developing hakaras hatov protect us from sinning in the future, and help us avoid doing aveiros?
  3. Do you think you need to say “thank you” to a person who did something with their own benefit in mind, but it ended up incidentally benefiting you, as well?

For example:
Your father filled up the car with gas because the tank was empty and he needed to drive the car. The next day, you use the car to drive somewhere else, and benefit from the fact that your father filled up the tank yesterday, because now you don’t have to fill it up yourself. But when your father filled the tank, he did it with his own benefit in mind – i.e. so that he could drive it himself – presumably not thinking about you at the time.

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