16 May 2011

To be able to be thankful

Freedom is manifest not so much in the ability (i.e., to be at liberty) to choose as it is in the ability to appreciate and to reciprocate in gratitude. 
To be able to be thankful is the true expression of freedom. 

Evaluating through gratitude

When we appreciate a gift we are evaluating through gratitude. 
Appreciation is evaluation within a social context the same way the ordering of preferences is evaluation within a selfish context.

Like love

Gratitude must be freely given. Like love, it is not authentic if it is obliged. 

Natural drivers of myths and stories

"For giving and gratitude create and sustain memories; they and their opposites are natural drivers of myths and stories." (The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser, 2008; page 3)

Moral memory of mankind

Georg Simmel calls gratitude the 'moral memory of mankind.' (The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser, 2008; page 2) It "contributes to the spiritual well-being of every person ..." 

Gratitude enables grace

If gratitude is the sentiment the undeserving feel towards the deserving, then a sense of gratitude is in a way a sense of one's undeservedness. 
Gratitude is the positive manifestation of what otherwise would have been experienced entirely as a negative sentiment (this sense of undeservedness), which the receiving of a gift was not meant to invite, and which, if that negative sentiment were all that were possible, would make the giving of a gift a futile exercise. 
Gratitude therefore enables grace. It lifts the burden of the receipt of beneficence and propels it forward either in time or to others. 

Gratitude & insolence

  • Gratitude is the engine of civil society. 
  • Gratitude is the ground of custom. 
  • As such, gratitude situates deservedness and undeservedness at the base of customary conduct. 
  • Insolence – the violation of what one is used to – challenges the customary behavior but in so doing fortifies it. 
  • Insolence would not be understood as meaningful were it not for the prior general acceptance of what was customary. 

If it would please you, it would please me

  • To say 'please' is to say 'if it would please you, it would please me.' 
  • 'Please' therefore is meant to stimulate the initiative of another and to communicate non-command. 
  • 'Please' speaks to the intention of the other and emphasizes their autonomy and self-determination. 
  • 'Please' is the ground of diplomatic sensibilities. 
  • 'Please' is the expression of self-limitation and submission in recognition of the self-possession of the other. 
  • 'Please' and 'thank you' address the chuqim of social intercourse. 

Acknowledgement of meaning and value

When we demand thanks for a generous gesture we are not demanding reciprocation, we are demanding appreciation. 
We don't want something back; what we want is acknowledgement of the meaning and value of what was offered. 

Undeserved beneficence

Children don't learn to say thank you spontaneously until the ages of from four to six. 
Since children spend the first years of their lives bathed in undeserved beneficence they do not really know how to recognize and appreciate their undeservedness until they acquire a considerable measure of social intelligence. 

Mutual aid and common purpose

Deeper even than the gratitude that engenders reciprocal gift exchange is the sense of mutual aid and common purpose that fuses people into a single unit and has them working together to achieve a joint objective. Then expressions of gratitude convey a sense of distancing rather than of fellowship because mutual aid is a closer form of relationship than is reciprocal gift exchange. 

We don't waste food

Gratitude has two dimensions: the acknowledgement of the other's autonomy in that they didn't have to give the gift; and the appreciation of the value and meaning of the gift so that there is a correspondence established between the valuing of the gift by the recipient which is commensurate with what the grantor of the gift has and had in mind. 
The former (recognizing autonomy) refers to the choq, the latter (appreciating the gesture) to the mishpat. It resembles the dual decision-making that goes into every market transaction: (a) do we want to do business with you; and (b) at what price. 
Those who belong to the same home need not qualify the choq. They can take without asking so long as they appreciate the mishpat by saying 'It is good.' 
The demonstration of an under-appreciation of the value of a gift comes in the form of waste. If you waste what is given to you, you are implicitly not appreciating it. We don't waste food out of respect to God's providence for having granted it to us. 

15 May 2011

An excess of meat

Qerev is the essence of membership, as pesach is the essence of strangership. 
Each member gets a share of a kill. As such, animals as food differ from fruits and vegetables as food, since vegetables come in quantities more easily personalized to the individual consumer. Animals, in contrast, require co-operation for the kill and animals also produce an excess of meat once their having been killed. 
The zevach pesach defines the lamb or kid as the basic consumption unit because it typically extends the unit of consumption beyond not only the individual to the family, it also extends beyond the family to the clan or the neighborhood. 
The qorban delivers to God His portion of the animal so that God may join as a member of the people. 

Insurance pools

When hunters and gatherers shared their catch or their kill with each other they were doing it not as an act of generosity so much as a form of insurance. 
The sharing of food production at the communal level does not elicit gratitude to those who do the sharing because the understanding is next time someone else will be lucky. Participation in the pool of insurance is not so much a matter of reciprocal gift exchange as it is a signal of membership in a people. 
Insurance pools is how we handle differential allocations of fortune rather than how we allocate the fruits of individual productivity. To the extent differential levels of productivity come into play, those differentials are managed in the political system through praise and by the conferrings of dignity and social status rather than through differential apportionments of wealth. 
The only member who is rewarded for His actions in matters of fortune is God, Who is understood to be the master of fortune. 


The matter of property that accompanies the allocations and apportionments of justice are governed by values of decency as well as by values of merit and deservedness. 
  • Decency is defined as the contribution to the collective. 
  • Decency is demanded by the collective and its fulfillment is an indicator either of membership in the collective or of a desire on the part of a stranger to reside next to or in the collective in peace. 
  • Decency is the token and the measure of the regard we pay to our peers. 
  • Decency is the ur-value that manifests sometimes as the impulse to equality. 
  • Equality before the law is a token of common membership in that legal system which defines the society. 
  • Equality before the law is a choq
  • Decency in the treatment of each member of a collective is a token of the recognition of each member as member and of each peace-loving stranger as potentially either a charge of the God of fortune, and so entitled to the basic needs for survival, or as a representative of another collective which shares in God's bounty at the collective level. 
  • Decency regulates the qualifying of persons or collectives to engage in trade and inter-marriage. It establishes the first condition of intercourse: do we want to do business with you. 

Defining private property

The matter of property affects not only the question of mishpat, of how much of something each one gets; it also affects questions of choq, of whether people can reasonably expect to be secure in their possessions. 
Errors in defining private property or collective property impair legitimate security in two ways: 
  1. If people cannot expect to get enough to care for the basic needs of life, they will resort to plunder and pillage because the imperatives of subsistence will eventually overwhelm the basic respect decent people have for the long-term domestic tranquility of society. Their acute needs will override in their minds the justice of the chronic needs of the collective. 
  2. If the well-to-do have too much alienable wealth, the mean forces in society will organize to relieve them of the excess and to transfer it to the more cunning, and, to their minds, the more deserving. Property claims therefore have to operate within the constraints of the security considerations they engender. Property rights that lead to insecure affluence should be deemed per se as suspect, and likely unjust. 

God's membership

The qorban is the demonstration of God's membership in the people. 
As God provides His bounty to the people every day so do the people of Israel make offerings to God in reciprocation of His daily gifts of grace. 
The movement from the zevach pesach, which is eaten by the people of Israel to the exclusion of God because He is as yet a stranger, an alien, to the qorban, which expressly includes God as a familiar, as a member of the people of Israel, dramatizes the establishment of the people of Israel as God's chosen people, where chosen means His being a member of them. 

The rules of hospitality

The stranger as foreigner is subject to, as well as benefits from, the rules of hospitality. 
The traveller becomes a temporary member of the group and is offered a share of the bounty because the host is by presumption wealthy while the guest is by presumption impoverished. 


'Ghostis' is the root of the word 'host' as well as the root of the word 'guest.' 
The host and guest play the two sides of the ghostis relation. Hosts could be hostile sometimes, and they might turn their guests into hostages, who, in its original manifestation, were 
"held as a guarantee to a treaty of peace between two previously antagonistic sides." (The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser, 2008; page 23)

The whiff of obligation

"... the more obligatory giving is, the less receivers feel grateful." (The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser, 2008; page 27) 
The growth of government programs, which have about them the whiff of obligation, would therefore reasonably have the effect of lowering the quotient of gratitude in a society. 
Our conjecture is that miqdash is about tempering such obligatory giving and returning into the social order the possibilities for the appreciation of gratitude. 

The empire of liberty

The United States is the empire of liberty. Its failures are the failures of an excess of individuality, self-reliance and autonomy. 
The United States has overshot the ethic of individuality so that it has eradicated the ordinary functioning of the communal sector. 
In a society where no-one wants to be obliged to anyone else, everyone ends up isolated and atomized. 

Grace serves security

The possibility of the exercise of abusive power is present both from host to guest and from guest to host. 
The rituals of hospitality are meant to disarm both sides so that the guest can express gratitude for, while the host expresses honor at, the presence of the guest in the host's domicile. Here is where grace serves as an instrument of security rather than as an instrument of justice. 
Avraham is the host par excellence. He exemplifies hospitality for travellers, foreigners, strangers. 

Rights wants laws to defend contracts

Rights displace receipt of gifts. 
One must not give thanks for obtaining what is one's right. As rights proliferate, the faculty for appreciating gifts atrophies. 
A world defined by rights wants laws to defend contracts in contrast to a world defined by gifts, which wants appreciation for the promotion of social intercourse. 

06 May 2011

A culture with God

The true objective of the Torah's teachings is not, as ChZL would represent it, to have the people submit to God's commandments but rather to create a culture with God at its center. Its drive is to get people thinking and framing reality in a certain way, not merely for them to follow some set of prescribed dictats. 

05 May 2011


When the Japanese use the word 'sumimasen' to connote both thanks for the receipt of a gift as well as sorrow for imposing one's needs on another they are implicitly addressing both the mishpat side of gift giving as well as the choq side of imposing oneself across the boundary of another's autonomy. 
The sorrow is for the need to violate and encroach on another's space, to impose a cost and thereby to entail oneself in indebtedness to another; the thanks are a gesture of appreciation for the value of the gift. 

04 May 2011

What can and cannot be taken for granted

In the same way that desert also at the same time signifies property rights so gratitude and apology also signify class distinction. 
What can and cannot be taken for granted is often a matter of class membership or national membership. 

Authority becomes indifferent

At the bottom of class distinction is a person’s applying emotion and affection to people who are not immediately known to them. 
It is when emotion has been drained out of the class relationship that the exercise of authority becomes indifferent, and resentment rather than affection comes to regulate the social order. 

An existential orientation

Gratitude is an existential orientation. It is a posture of being in the world. To be in a state of gratitude is to be in response to something or someone who has bestowed some object or performed some action that puts one on the receiving end of a relationship. It therefore presupposes and implies the existence of a relationship, a relationship that is definitive of one's being; it sets the tone of that relationship as being colored by loving kindness and gentle caring; and it presents a set of guidelines for how to behave. 
Gratitude is a response to some primary act of beneficence. It is not clear how one can orient oneself into a posture of gratitude without having some providential god on the other side of the relationship.