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Attitude of Gratitude

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

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Attitude of Gratitude

When Yehuda was born, Leah was especially grateful as נטלתי יותר מחלקי, I took more than my share.[1] It should be the same with each of us as whatever we have is more than we deserve. For this reason, we are called יהודי, from the term הודאה, to be grateful for all we have[2] and say I took more than my portion. Indeed, this is the attitude we begin our day with מודה אני—thanking Hashem.[3] As someone once put it, “We thank before we think” (referring to מודה אני as we say this immediately when we awake).[4]

 

We should constantly ask ourselves, “What am I grateful for now?” We always have what to be grateful for at any given moment. Our health, food, beautiful weather, just being alive… is not something to be taken for granted.[5]

 

There is so much to appreciate: the air we breathe, which is in abundant supply. Water, which is plentiful. The sunlight, wind, rain, trees, gardens, mountains, seas, moon, stars, fire, heat, cold, snow, dew, use of our limbs, the ability to see, hear, smell, taste, feel, the faculty of speech, thought, memory, the variety of food of every taste and color, the body’s secretions and chemistry. The materials that compose our clothing and supply our homes. Utensils, grains vegetables, fruits, meat, chicken, fish, minerals, electricity, light, wood, coal, petroleum and all the resources of the earth. For many, this is as if it doesn’t exist. If the happiness of life passes by unnoticed, it also passes by not enjoyed.[6] It is when one is about to leave the world that he looks back with regret at all that he possessed but failed to enjoy.[7] There is an expression, “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our own blessings.”[8]

 

Let us think what Adam had to do until he found bread to eat: He plowed, sowed, reaped, gathered the stalks together, threshed the stalks, winnowed the chaff from the grain, selected the other waste from the grain, ground the grain into flour, sifted the flour, kneaded the flour into dough, baked the dough and then afterwards ate the bread. We arise in the morning and have all these labors already prepared for us. Now let us think of the exertions involved for Adam to have a garment to wear. Adam sheared the wool, cleaned it, disentangled it, spun it into threads and wove the threads. Then he had a garment to wear. All of this is already performed for us![9] We must have an attitude of gratitude!

 

R’ Ovadia Yosef said that nowadays even when things are tight, everyone is wealthy compared to the way he lived when he was a child. He wrote, “I never had a suit. My father bought my Shabbos clothing secondhand. I had a long jacket that probably had been worn by twenty people before me. At that time, the bus company Mekasher provided transportation from Beis Yisrael to the Old City for a half-grush (currency). I didn’t want to waste the coin, so I walked—rain or snow. All the half-grush coins that I saved funded my wedding. When we were young, we took dry bread and water to school every day, often with a tomato, which we rubbed into the bread. That’s all we took for an entire school day, to hold us over until dinnertime. If someone was eating bread with an egg, we thought he was a millionaire. I once brought cream, which they sold in a small container, and that day was a holiday. For dessert, we were often given a teaspoon of coffee grains with sugar.”[10]

 

A 109 year-old-Holocaust survivor who lost her entire family in the holocaust was having hip surgery. After the surgery she was walking in the corridor at the hospital where she met someone who came to visit her. When asked how she was doing, she replied, “Great. This time it took them only three tries to find the right vein. I’m surrounded by doctors that are looking after my health and many have come to visit me!” We should internalize that, “At the root of complaining is thinking the situation could be better. At the root of satisfaction is being aware that the situation could be worse.”

What is a truly wealthy person? Although many may take for granted what they are born with, let us take a look at what we possess so we can appreciate it. Eyes to see which is more sophisticated than the best camera. Teeth to chew and grind up the food. Hands to take care of our many tasks.[11] Feet to walk with. With this we can grasp איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו,[12] one who is happy with his lot is a truly wealthy person, as the Chida tells us עשיר is an acronym for עינים, שינים, ידים, רגלים,[13] eyes, teeth, hands and feet. To see how wealthy we are, we must see all that we have that money can’t buy (children, being married, health, just being alive and so on).[14]

 

There was a secular woman that was so excited because she was soon about to buy her dream car. This is all she would talk about. She finally bought and couldn’t contain her excitement as this is what filled her conversations. Soon after she bought it she came into work looking upset. A colleague asked her if she got into an accident, since she wasn’t talking with excitement about her newly purchased car. She answered that she didn’t get into an accident but she was driving when suddenly a nicer car passed her and that became her new dream car. This new car made her present car nearly worthless to her.

It has been recommended to keep a gratitude journal where at the end of each day we write what we are grateful for from that day. Other advice that has been suggested is to think, speak and act as a grateful person even if we don’t feel that way since החיצונה מעוררת הפנימית, the external arouses the internal.[15]  

 

This trait of being happy with our lot is that of Yaakov’s as he said יש לי כל, I have everything.[16] There are those that have plenty of wealth and abundant possessions yet in truth have nothing. With this we can explain יש מתעשר ואין כל:[17] there are those who seem to be wealthy but really have nothing since they lack the trait of כל, gratitude.[18]



[1] Breishis 29:35. Since Yaakov had four wives and would have 12 sons (see 29:34 Rashi s.v. הפעם), each wife would be expected to give birth to three sons. With her fourth son, Leah took more than her share.

[2] Sefas Emes, Vayigash, תרל”א, s.v. ויגש.

[3] The Midrash says that we should praise Hashem for each breath (Breishis Rabba 14:9).

[4] A wise man once said, “A woman who wants to be thanked for the Challa she makes has to thank her husband for the dough (money) he brings home.”

[5] It was known that R’ Moshe Feinstein didn’t want an air conditioner. He explained, “What happens if it breaks? Then I can’t learn because I became so used to it.”

[6] There is a saying, “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

[7] Sing, You Righteous, pp. 17-18.

[8] The son of R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky once related that his family was so poor when he was growing up that his suit for his bar mitzvah was his father’s old suit. For the honor of the bar mitzvah his father inverted the suit.

[9] Brachos 58a.

[10] See Ma’adenei Hamelech, volume 1, p. 22 and p. 25. Neighbors of R’ Ovadia Yosef often saw him, in his younger years, rocking a stroller outside on the porch, with a sefer propped above the stroller. Sometimes though, his intense concentration got the better of him. As he drifted deeper into the words of Torah before him, he was liable to lose awareness of his little child, and his wife had to come to the aid of a crying baby who R’ Ovadia was rocking but had not heard.

[11] If one would be granted all his wishes—vacation of his dreams, the food he desires, financial wealth he wants and so on—in exchange for one of his hands, he would turn down the offer. Consequently, we should appreciate our hands at least that much and not complain about that which we lack.

[12] Avos 4:1. Through studying our marvelous body we can connect to Hashem as it states מבשרי אחזה אלוה, from my flesh I see Hashem (Iyov 19:26).

[13] See Shemos 21:24. Rabbeinu Efraim there says that this is a hint to אין עושר כבריאות, there is no wealth like health.

[14] The story is told of someone who asked a soldier that tragically lost both of his legs in battle, “How are you so positive without your legs”? His reply: “How are you so negative with yours’s?” Many times it’s the ones that are happy in the good times that are also happy in the negative times. Let’s ask ourselves how are we when life is smooth and we are not going through rough times. Do we constantly complain?

[15] Mesilas Yesharim, chapter 7.

[16] Breishis 33:11.

[17] Mishlei 13:7. The Pasuk statesואין העם מכירים קול תרועת השמחה לקול בכי העם, the people didn’t notice the sound of the joyful shouting because of the sound of the people’s weeping (Ezra 3:13). The same can be said of those who don’t realize what they possess: they don’t notice the pleasures and joys in life because they are lamenting what they don’t have.

[18] One exercise that is recommended is to repeat to ourselves, “It really makes no difference to me what anyone else has.”

 

Author of three books including the recently released Extraordinary Insights

 
Listen to the short Fascinating Insights Podcast at https://jewishpodcasts.fm/fascinating-insights

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