Weekly Sermon




A Rabbi's Thank You


I was once met a member of the shul in Kroger’s whose husband comes to shul often. She said: “You know rabbi, when my husband comes home from shul Shabbos morning he raves about your sermons. Over lunch he tells me what you said in great detail, and we discuss it.”

I said a polite thank you to this woman for what she said, but walked away shaking my head, for this man—whom she says loves my sermons and tells them to her every week at lunch in great detail—never told me that he like a sermon—not even once. He rarely reacts visibly to anything that I say—not even a joke!

My question is: if he tells his wife how much he likes my sermons, why doesn’t he ever tell me? Can you imagine how he would make my day if, just once, he would say to me: “Rabbi, I loved your sermon today. When I get home, I’m going to tell my wife all about it?”

Why do I tell you this story? Believe me it’s not so all of you will come up to me at Kiddush to tell me how much you loved my sermon today. I share this story with you because it has something to teach.

You might say that I shouldn’t be so needy as to depend upon anyone’s approval so much. Or, I should know in my heart whether my message is good or not—and you would be right, for I don’t choose my message every week, it chooses me. But the truth is, we all need appreciation and validation, recognition and approval—even rabbis!

Why do we find it easier to sing praises and express our gratitude to a 3rd person rather than to thank the one who earned it? Isn’t the whole purpose of the Thanksgiving holiday to make us aware of all those—not only Gd—to whom we ought to be grateful, and to remind us to say thank you to them?

Why has this man rarely said the thank-you to me that he evidently feels? And, to be honest, why have I seldom said the thank-you’s that I ought to, to those who have benefited me and enriched my life? Why do I pay the plumber who fixes my sink, or the mechanic who fixes my car, but seldom say more than a perfunctory thank you to any one of them?

Can you imagine what it would be like if, a week after, I would call and say, “Thank you. It’s working great! You did a great job. I’m grateful.” Will those of you who are in business tell me how often a customer has done that for you? Raise your hand if you’ve ever done that…That’s what I was afraid of.

We are called “Jews,” Y’hudim in Hebrew, because we are from the tribe of Yehuda, Judah. Next week’s Torah portion (Gen. 29:35) tells us that when Leah gave birth to her 4th child she said: Hapaam odeh et Hashem (This time I will thank Gd), al keyn kara shmo Yehuda (Therefore she called his name Yehuda, “Thanks”).

We are Y’hudim. We Jews—as I’m fond of saying—are thanking beings. We’re supposed to observe Thanksgiving every day. Gratitude is part of what it means to be a Jew. Jews are supposed to say 100 blessings to Gd every day—over bread, wine, fruit, for hearing good news, for seeing a rainbow, for putting on new clothes, and on and on. 100 blessings thanking Gd each day!

A colleague, Rabbi Jack Reimer, once suggested that we might say a few less blessings to Gd—maybe just 95, or even 90—and say a few more blessings to each other. He writes: I don’t think Gd will be so upset if we cut down on the number of times a day that we thank Him, if we increase the number of times a day that we thank each other. In fact, I think He’ll love it!

Reimer then offers a couple of simple suggestions for our consideration. #1: When was the last time you said thank you to one of your school teachers or even your child’s teachers? Teachers don’t get enormous salaries, to put it mildly. But they do get paid in naches, when one of their students turns out well. And so, may I suggest, that, this Thanksgiving, you drop a note of appreciation to one of your schoolteachers—if you can remember their names and if they’re still alive—and one of your children’s teachers and tell them that they have made a difference in your life and in the life of your child.

         If you do, I promise you that you will make their day. You will make all the work that they put in, day after day, year after year after year, feel worthwhile. You will do more to improve the level of education than you can do by voting for all the increases in school taxes in the world.

His 2nd suggestion is even simpler—if not a bit dated: The next time you write a check to pay for any service that you have received, look at the check before you mail it. You will notice that in the lower left-hand corner of every check there is a blank line after the word “memo”…I suggest that you…write the words, “Thank you.”

I try to do that now. The problem is, who rights a lot of checks anymore? If you’re like me, most of my bills are deducted automatically out of my bank accounts. But when I do write a check, I try to remember so also write, “Thank you”—whether it’s to pay the water bill, the gardener, or the exterminator. It takes about 10 seconds, and it doesn’t cost anything, but I like to think that whoever receives it will smile. 

I must admit that I don’t always write “thank you” on my checks. Once I got a ticket for speeding. It wasn’t my fault. It was the policeman’s. If he had minded his own business instead of testing my speed on his radar gun, it wouldn’t have happened. And when I wrote a check to pay the ticket, I just couldn’t bring myself to write “Thank you” on it. But there are lots of checks on which we ought to, write “Thank you.”

For example, when we get the bill from the shul for our dues, shouldn’t we feel a moment of gratitude, and shouldn’t we say so? The shul gives us the opportunity to carry out the mitzvah of tzedaka by sending us this bill, does it not? And the shul enables us to share in many mitzvot—supporting Jewish education, visiting the sick and caring for the bereaved, feeding 50 poor children on the weekends with Backpack Budies, celebrating the holidays and having a wonderful place to come to where we can connect to Gd and each other and much more. So, we really ought to say thank you to the shul when we send in our checks.

         And even if you pay online with a credit card, there’s a button for “Write a note” where you can express your thanks.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, it’s the custom of most rabbis to give a sermon in which they remind us to be grateful to Gd. But this Shabbos I also want to remind you that we need to say thank you to each other—thank you to our spouses, our children and to our friends, more often than we do.

My friends, let me end this sermon by saying something I feel all the time, but I don’t say as often as I should. For being such good friends to me…for being such patient listeners to me…for giving me the privilege of teaching Torah in this holy place…for treating me so well…and for listening politely, even when the sermon is as long as it is today…for all these things and much more, let me say from the bottom of my heart, “Thank you, thank you!”

And to the man who sits here often—I won’t tell you if he’s sitting here today—who I found out likes my sermons but who never tells me—let me say thank you to him. For he not only gave me the idea for this sermon, but I think I know why he never tells me that he likes my sermons. He thinks that rabbis who are praised too much are liable to become vain, and he doesn’t want that to happen to me. And so, out of kindness and consideration for me, and out of concern for my spiritual well-being, he holds himself back from praising me too much.

         And so for this, let me say to him a very sincere, “Thank you very much.”

And to all of you, again, let me say from the bottom of my heart, thank you for allowing me to be your rabbi. I love you all. Amen!


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