Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household. — Deuteronomy 26:11
Beginning at sunset, my family and I will join Jews around the world in celebrating Shavuot, also known as The Festival of Weeks or Pentecost. Initially, Shavuot was a harvest festival, but since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we have celebrated it as the giving of the Torah, which occurred seven weeks, or 50 days after the Exodus. Since Shavuot is a nonworking holiday, these devotions were prepared for you in advance.
One of the ways that we cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” in our family is by taking time to enjoy life and acknowledge our gifts. In this way a family excursion to the beach, a home-cooked meal shared together on Shabbat, or a trip to the mall for new shoes all become experiences of thankfulness. There is no shortage of blessings to be grateful for in our lives, but if we don’t pause to see them and mindfully enjoy them, we won’t necessarily be aware of them.
On the holiday of Shavuot, the ancient Israelites presented their firstfruits to God. Weeks earlier, when an Israelite saw the first emergence of one of the seven species of the land — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives, or dates, as designated in Deuteronomy 8:8 — he tied a string around it, designating it as his firstfruits. The worshipper had to first notice the emerging fruit so that later on, he could officially acknowledge and celebrate the blessing.
In Hebrew, the word for gratitude is hakarat hatov, which literally means, “recognizing the good.” Thankfulness begins with awareness — awareness of what we have, of what God has done for us and what He continues to do for us each and every day. We can have all of the “good” in the world, but if we are not aware of it, if we do not recognize it, we cannot appreciate it.
Shavuot comes just once a year, but its message resonates all year no matter what season of life we might be in. Living in a state of joyful gratitude begins by recognizing the blessings in our life just as the ancient Israelites took notice of the first of their fruit beginning to blossom. It continues with expressing gratitude to God just as the Israelites did when they presented their fruit in the Temple. It concludes with truly enjoying everything that we have been given just as the firstfruits ceremony concluded with singing, feasting, and festivities: “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household” (Deuteronomy 26:11).
Your turn: Try this three-part formula to cultivate hakarat hatov: Recognize your blessings, express your heartfelt thanks for them, and enjoy all the good things in your life as much as you possibly can.