And it will be, when you come into the land which HASHEM, your G-d, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which HASHEM, your G-d, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which HASHEM, your G-d, will choose to have His Name dwell there. And you shall come to the kohen who will be [serving] in those days, and say to him, “I declare this day to HASHEM, your G-d, that I have come to the land which HASHEM swore to our forefathers to give us.” (Devarim 261-15)
These first few verses here spell out the formula for feeling, maintaining, and expressing gratitude. Why this is all necessary may be too obvious but let us not assume it is so. To be ungrateful is a terrible state of existence.
Imagine this scenario. You are driving on the highway and you see a car stopped on the side with his lights blinking but it is too late for you to stop and help so you get off at the next exit and circle back and reenter the highway and this time you stop.
You discover he is out of gas. The next gas station is 10 miles ahead. He has no gas can. So, you volunteer to drive to the nearest gas station. You fill up your gas can with your credit card, go and exit further and reenter the highway to go all the way back and pass his location, exit again and circle back to where he is still waiting.
You put the gas in his car. He starts it up and drives away without a world of acknowledgment or a whisper of a thank you. What do you think of this person?! What can you think of such a person!? INGRATE! NOT NICE!
The entire Chovos HaLevavos is founded on the premise that when a person recognizes to what extent HASHEM has helped him, then he will feel more and more motivated to at least try to repay, symbolically and with a heart swollen with gratitude. “How can I repay HASHEM for all that He has done for me!?” It’s a rhetorical question, Dovid HaMelech is asking/declaring because the answer is limitless.
There is always a huge risk for the 2nd generation after entering the land, that they will adopt a default attitude of “born on third base and thinks he hit a triple”. We can too easily be seduced into thinking that we created our successes, we made our gray matter, and we managed to control the myriad of coordinated factors that made it happen, even though we may struggle to change a light fixture.
If we allow those self-deceptive notions to take root and we forget to Whom we are deeply indebted then to that extent we are no different than that guy on the highway of life. It’s all coming to me for free.
Unfortunately, the blessing is then limited to the extent that the THANK YOUS are diminished. The ungrateful mind then has a serious choice. A person can either awaken themself to the become an appreciator of appreciation and that will open the spicket of blessing to flow again or he can become a complainer and feel justified in blaming the G-d he has ignored till now but is suddenly alerted to.
On the way home from New York I was speaking with (listening to) a young man with a few serious challenges. He was complaining the whole hour. I listened empathetically but as I was arriving back for Mincha I noticed what a beautiful day it was and how many things are right in the world.
I told him based on a Rashi in the Ten Commandments that HASHEM is at least 500 times more kind than strict. I told him that he could complain all he wants but first he must list 500 things to be grateful for. First find 500 points of gratitude and then one complaint, and like that you can complain all you want!