December 4th-5th, 1998
16 Kislev, 5759
Gratitude, PART I
Please indulge me in a digression from our usual
format. Vayishlach is an important parsha--study it, by all means!--, but since
Thanksgiving was last week, I feel seasonally compelled to address the theme of gratitude.
Rather than give my own thoughts on the topic, I'd like to share with you a few ideas from
a lecture on gratitude given a couple of weeks ago in Savannah by a distinguished guest
from Jerusalem, and personal mentor of this writer, Rabbi Noach Orlowek. I won't
attempt to capture his wonderful anecdotes, which combine the depths of Torah wisdom and
the profoundest common sense, or the warmth of his personality...to enjoy these, you must
make an effort to hear him when he rolls through south Georgia again (or, for you
out-of-towners, when he shows up in your neck of the woods).
Rabbi Orlowek began by characterizing gratitude as the ability to focus on the good in
everything--situations, relationships, one's own character. The Hebrew phrase for
gratitude is hakarat ha'tov, which literally means, "acknowledging the good."
Although he didn't dwell on this point, we see that the trait of gratitude is
connected to our willingness to admit the truth! And there is not any person who
does not have a very great amount of good in his life which he can acknowledge and feel
thankful for. (As Rabbi Orlowek said, every single breath is a miracle to praise
Hashem for...as King David himself writes in the final verse of the final chapter of
Psalms, very much summing up their basic spirit: "Let every breath praise G-d!")
Calling gratitude the "vehicle" through which
we bond with others, he stated that it has the power to transform one's life. It's
an energizer: to be able to see what's right in a situation--and appreciate it--gives us
the strength and motivation to deal with the inevitable hurdles and difficulties in that
Gratitude is also a deeply human need, he explained.
Elaborating on the thought of Rabbi Eliezer Dessler, a great Torah sage of our
century, Rabbi Orlowek said that even when a person has nothing with which to pay back
someone who has benefited him, that person can give (and, in most cases, feels he must
give) his thanks. With a "thank you," he is giving to his benefactor. To
feel the need to give our "thank you" in exchange for kindness shown us is part
of our humanity--built into our neshama, if you will.
Well, then, why is it so very hard for us to show
gratitude so much of the time--to our spouses, friends, colleagues...and Creator?
Why do we persistently NOT say "thank you" so frequently?
The answer, Rabbi Orlowek explained (and our own common sense confirms), is that we think
we have everything coming to us! A very profound point here, no matter that it seems
so obvious. We think that EVERYTHING is coming to us: a spotless house, a successful
business, an unflappably cheerful spouse--not to mention the perfect functioning of every
cell and organ in our bodies round the clock, year in and year out. The food we eat
and the air we breathe--it's coming to us. This colossal, and oh-so-human,
misperception is the source of most unhappiness, Rabbi Orlowek asserted.
The classic ethical work, Duties of the Heart (Chovos Halevavos), cites this as one of the
three main reasons for our startling ingratitude to the benefits G-d constantly bestows on
us. Human beings
"...grow up surrounded with a superabundance of
Divine favors which they experience continuously, and to which they become so used that
they come to regard these as essential parts of their being, not to be removed or
separated from themselves during the whole of their lives. When their intelligence
develops and their mental faculties become strong, they foolishly ignore the benefits the
Creator has bestowed on them and do not consider the obligation of gratitude for Divine
beneficence, for they are unaware of the high degree of the boon..." (Introduction to
Section Two; translation by Moses Hyamson; Feldheim edition.)
Since my kidneys have always worked, I assume that
that's the norm, and I am most upset and peeved if (G-d forbid) they suddenly become
derelict in their duty.
Better to assume nothing--for, in truth, all of
"Nature" only goes along "her" course because G-d constantly wills it
so--and to thank Hashem every day for the gift of health. (And food and the means of
making a living, etc.) Which is just what our Sages have taught us by including in
our morning prayer service the brochos (blessings) of thanks for the (mundane?) pleasures
of seeing, thinking, stretching, walking, relieving ourselves, and so on.
You want some specific techniques and strategies that
Rabbi Orlowek mentioned to help us become more grateful human beings? Stay tuned
next week, when--as an addendum to our regular parsha sheet (G-d willing) -- we will
continue with the discussion of GRATITUDE.
Insights Into Genesis
Insights Into Exodus
Edelstein is Director of the Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP). Phone: 912-355-0157;
fax: 912-354-9923; e-mail: Yosef18@aol.com
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