Our ancestors didn’t have the benefit of Freud, Jung or Ainsworth and yet they often seem to have understood human nature as well as, or even better than, we do.
Our ancestors knew that we are rarely satisfied with what we have. That is why, in Pirke Avot, they taught, “Who is rich? One who rejoices in what they already possess.” (PA 3:5) They understood that appreciating what we already have takes effort but they also knew that that effort yields a life that is rich — perhaps not monetarily, but rich in ways far more impactful.
They understood how easily the small acts of kindness or moments of beauty can be overlooked in the rushed pace of life. That is why they gave us countless blessings expressing gratitude for everything from seeing a rainbow…
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעולָם זוכֵר הַבְּרִיתוְנֶאֱמָן בִּבְרִיתו וְקַיָּם בְּמַאֲמָרו
Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the Universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to God’s covenant, and keeps God’s promise.
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, zocher habrit v’ne’eman biv’reetoh v’kayam b’ma’amarav.
…to meeting with a scholar of note.
ברוך אתה ה’ אלקינו מלך העולם שחלק מחכמתוליראיו
Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the Universe, who has imparted wisdom to those that fear You.
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, she chalak mee chachmato leerayahv.
They understood that, too often, we have short memories. We long for something to happen but then, after receiving or achieving it, look to the next thing, rather than pause and express appreciation. That is why the Torah states,
… [when you have] great and flourishing cities that you did not build, houses full of all good things that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and you eat your fill, take heed that you do not forget the God who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. (Deut 6:11)
And they understood that the more we take the time to pause, appreciate what is in front of us and express thanks for it, the more opportunities to express thanks we will see. That is why the rabbis of the Talmud decreed that we should pause 100 times each day to recite a blessing of gratitude.
Gratitude is important at all times, but especially during challenging times such as these, it is a must. It helps us regain perspective. It reminds us that life is always a mixed bag of experiences and it is up to us to choose where to place our focus. And it lets us appreciate life’s blessings… even when they seem few and far between.
On this, the Shabbat before Thanksgiving I want to express my thanks to all of you. This has been a difficult 20+ months. Thank you for your patience, your support, your understanding and your partnership. I know this isn’t easy but, even at a time as challenging as this, there is so much for which to be grateful. We just may have to work a bit harder to see it.
With an abundance of gratitude to each of you for being an indispensable part of this sacred community…
Rabbi Daniel Cohen