Giving thanks is not about keeping a score card, exchanging a favor or getting even – it is about unconditional appreciation no matter what the circumstance.

In this week’s Torah portion (Vayakhel-Pekudei/Exodus 35:1-40:38), we read about the construction of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), the portable synagogue that accompanied the Jewish people throughout their 40 years of wandering in the desert.

The Torah tells us that when the Mishkan was completed, “Moses blessed them,” referring to the people who were involved in its construction.

The Talmud teaches that from here we learn that we should give a blessing, a compliment or a kind word to someone who has completed an intricate project or accomplishment, especially when related to a mitzvah (Torah commandment). By blessing them, Moses was saying, “Thank you. That’s a job well done!”

A number of commentators have asked why those involved in construction of the Mishkan were deserving of appreciation. They did not voluntarily construct the Mishkan. They were commanded to do so. They had no choice but to comply.

We learn from this example, the sages explain, that the reason or way in which a person provides an important service is completely irrelevant. The fact is that if you benefited from it, say thank you. It makes no difference whether the person was commanded, paid or volunteered to do it.

In Judaism we have a unique expression to thank or congratulate someone who performed a service beneficial to us, especially if it was a mitzvah. We say Yasher Koach, which means, “May your strength be enriched” or “May your strength be straight.” These days, the closest idiom would be “More power to you” or “Good job.” In Sephardic communities it is common to say Chazak Ubaruch, which means, “be strong and blessed” instead.

The Benefit is What Counts

In the synagogue, this expression is most frequently used when congratulating a person who had been called to recite the blessing on the Torah, or when the Kohanim, the Priests, have blessed the congregation. In the former case, the person was honored to be called to the Torah – so why should the congregants say thank you? And in the latter case, the Kohanim have no choice. They are commanded to bless the people. Here again, even when someone was chosen, honored tor commanded to perform a mitzvah – in such situations, a Yasher Koach is in order. The one called to the Torah had participated in the service; the Kohanim blessed us – and the bottom line is that we benefit.

That is what showing gratitude in Judaism is all about. Giving thanks is not about keeping a scorecard, exchanging a favor or getting even – it is about unconditional appreciation no matter what the circumstance. And if Moses implemented this “policy” for the Mishkan, the house of God, how much more so is it appropriate for us in our daily lives.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
To read more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: