Religious : : Thoughts from Our Rabbi
Gratitude is not a new human value. Poets and philosophers have emphasized the importance of saying thank you from time immemorial. Every Friday night we recite Psalm 92, written 3,000 years ago: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing Your praise, O exalted God.” In the 19th century, Robert Louis Stevenson said: “The man who has forgotten to be thankful, has fallen asleep in the midst of life.” Unfortunately, by Stevenson’s definition, most people are asleep. We do not express gratitude to God as we should; we do not thank our families and friends as we could. Why is this so?
Why do people neglect to thank each other? Why do people forget to praise God for this beautiful universe; for food, clothing/shelter? There are at least 3 reasons for this human tendency. The first reason is that whenever something bad happens, we blame others or God, yet whenever something good happens, we congratulate ourselves. As we read in the book of Deuteronomy (8:11-18): “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God… when you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and your flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered. Beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God – who freed you from the land of Egypt… and you say to yourselves: ‘My own power and the might of my own hand — have won this wealth for me!’. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth!”
There is a second reason why we frequently lack a sense of gratitude – because we lack a proper sense of perspective. Rabbi David Golinkin writes: If you had a scheduled flight on September 11, 2001 & your flight was cancelled; your meetings were cancelled & a friend asks, “Why are you so calm?” Maybe it’s a matter of perspective/there are 5,000 missing & presumed dead in NYC, the World Trade Center was destroyed and tens of thousands stranded in airports all over the world. So why should you be upset?”
The third reason for our lack of gratitude is our attitude. People tend to find in life what they expect to find. If they look for positive things worth being grateful for, they find them; if they look for negative things, they find them.
We are much better off than past generations – who experienced plagues like the Black Death, which killed between 75 and 200 million people, or the Spanish flu, which killed between 17 and 50 million people. They did not know the cause of those plagues / they could not heal those who became ill. The same is true of the many plagues recorded in our Hebrew Bible, our Talmud, and the responsa literature written by our rabbis.
We should be very grateful. Many in government are doing everything they can to save lives. Volunteers and organizations are distributing food parcels; doctors and nurses and millions of front line workers are testing people and curing people of all ages and every religion. We should thank God that we are alive and thank all who are helping one another overcome this plague. I hope and pray that we will get through this difficult period as quickly as possible. Stay safe and healthy.
B’vrachot, blessings, Rabbi Dennis