Anyone with a little synagogue experience knows the phrase “repetition of the Amidah.” For those unable to recite the special Amidah prayer on their own, the prayer leader, having whispered it himself like most of the congregation, then recites it out loud, pausing after each of the 19 blessings, giving everyone a chance to respond “Amen.”
And, just by saying “Amen,” even the least educated and most ignorant congregant gets credit for the blessings of the Amidah.
But then you have Modim. Upon arriving at the blessing whose theme is expressing gratitude to G-d, the response is far more than simply, “Amen.” In fact, an entire paragraph, called Modim Drabanan, is laid out for every congregant to recite.
Why? Why doesn’t “Amen” suffice for this blessing, and why the lengthy response?
Because while one may appoint a messenger to say many things, “thank you” must be said personally. Gratitude is not something that can be delegated — it must be expressed from the heart.
Like its mirror quality of desperation, gratitude leaves one feeling, ironically, alone. Just like a person experiencing desperation feels that “no one knows what I’m going through,” a person who is deeply grateful also feels like they alone know the depth of their gratitude, how desperate they were for what they needed and how grandly thankful they feel now that it
has been given to them.
So, it is insufficient to hear someone say, “thank you,” and reply, “Amen!” If you feel it, declare it! If something has happened in life which makes your knees buckle with relief and gratitude to G-d, you must articulate those feelings. The deliverance was powerful and came down to Earth, and the gratitude must be towering and reach up to Heaven.
This week’s Parshah speaks of the ancient ritual of Bikkurim, where a Jewish farmer would travel all the way to Jerusalem, laden with gifts and tributes of the first fruits of his fields. He would make the often lengthy and arduous journey just to be able to stand before G-d and say,“thank you.”
Only the farmer knows how hard he worked to clear, burrow and plow the earth. Only he knows the endless hours of sweat and tears that he carefully sowed, watered, watched over and cultivated his land. Only he knows how badly he needed the crop to succeed, and how intensely he needed the fruits to grow; how his family’s survival depended on it. Only he knows how helpless he felt when he knew he had done everything he could and it was now in G-d’s hands, utterly and completely. Only he knows the emotional, whispered prayers he poured out, begging G-d to bless his labor with success, to allow him to reap with joy.
And only he knows the incredible sense of relief and happiness he is now enjoying as he beholds the abundance of healthy produce, the long-awaited, beautiful fruits of his labor.
So, how could anyone say “thank you” for him? How could he not make the trip and express his thankfulness as only he can?
Each of us knows where we fit into this picture. We’ve all needed, wanted so very badly, felt desperate for one matter or another to work out. Be it business or health of family, only we know the intensity of our need and the intensity of
And so only we can properly express it. And express it we must. Verbally, joyfully, sincerely. There is nothing to be ashamed of. And not only with the Modim or with the morning Modeh Ani prayers. At Shabbat dinners, at lunch with friends or whenever the opportunity presents itself, it’s always the right time to look around the room and look around your life and exclaim, “Baruch Hashem! Thank G-d.”
Shabbat Shalom! PJC
Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel is executive director of The Aleph Institute – North East Region. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.