Give Thanks to God First
Yael Eckstein | May 11, 2022
“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest’.” —Leviticus 23:10
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. This week’s Torah portion for this week is Emor, which means “speak,” from Leviticus 21:1–24:23.
The first Jewish prayer I was taught as a child was the Modeh Ani, which means “I am thankful.” These are the first two words of the short prayer that a Jew says immediately upon waking up each morning.
The full text of the Modeh Ani prayer goes like this: “I am thankful before You, living and eternal King, for mercifully returning my soul to me (for another day). Great is your faithfulness.” While still in bed, as soon as the alarm goes off, these are the first words out of a Jew’s mouth every single day. We start off every day with an “attitude of gratitude!”
One of my father’s teachings that has remained with me throughout my life is that gratitude is an essential part of my identity as a Jew and of my service to God. The word “Jew” is short for Judah, the tribe from which most Jewish people today are descended. The name Judah comes from the Hebrew word hoda’a, which literally means “thankfulness.”
Give Thanks to God First
This idea, giving thanks to God first, before we move on to our own personal concerns, is found in this week’s Torah portion. We read, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest.’”
Have you ever grown your own food? Maybe you have a garden where you’ve planted vegetables or a fruit tree in your yard. If you’ve ever put in the work to grow your own produce, you know the feeling of anticipation followed by excitement when you finally get to see the fruits of your labors.
The commandment to dedicate the firstfruits to God reminds us that the pride and enjoyment that comes from our work must first and foremost lead us to thank God first for His blessing. Only after we have thanked God for His blessings in our lives are we free to partake of those blessings.
Giving thanks to God first for the fruits of our labors keeps us humble and reminds us that God is the sole source of all that we have.
This week try starting your day with gratitude. Before you get out of bed, spend a few minutes thanking God for the new day and for His blessings.