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In a world where we’ve refined the art of complaining about what we don’t have--money, beauty, a mate, a date, or we’re overweight--Judaism stands out as a paragon of gratitude. The first thing a Jew must do upon waking before one even gets out of bed is to say thank you to our Creator for returning our soul to us in the morning. Where do our souls go at night as we sweetly slip into slumber as Netflix plays in the background and our devices chirp and the floorboards creak? We die and our souls return to their source and testify for or against us and we are judged. Well we don’t die completely, just 1/60th the Talmud teaches. And each day, if we are lucky, we awake again and have a fresh chance to make our beds anew. But like all things in life, good things too come to an end and one day we run out of chances. Still, the majority of us, to coddle our farcical superiority, begin our days with complaints and gripes against everyone we know and the lives we live instead of thanking G-d for our every blessing.
How can we hope to behave in a healthy or G-dly manner when our java is blended with bitterness? Before our feet hit the ground we feel resentful, jealous, and underpaid by the begrudging universe for our perceived fabulousness, as chimeric as it may be. Complaints, of course, arise from the one who feels his cart is not sufficiently filled; it’s born from a mindset that believes that this life is for collecting and thus one always feels ravenous and jealous and in need. But those who begin their day with gratitude, with knowledge that the purpose of this life is to give to G-d and to give to others, then their baskets are always full; their appetites satiated.
I once read a great quote which said: If you woke up tomorrow with only what you said “thank you” for today, with what would you be left? I tried the exercise once and just started thanking G-d for everything in my life. Try it. Itemize it as you would if someone owed you money. Even I, who espouses the practice of thanks, was flabbergasted by how many things and details for which we have to be grateful (bli ayin hara). I felt embarrassed for myself for ever having complained at all. That high, however, doesn’t last unless we work on ourselves daily. It turns out that while we pursue all the harlotry of this world to feel good, to feel high, to fill a void where there need be none,the Torah offers us the truest and most complete high of all: Thank you G-d! Todah! (In fact, the very term Jew Yehudi is directly linked to the Hebrew word hoda’ah, which means “thanks.”’)
We feel insecure and incomplete and so begrudge others perhaps threatened that if we give them money or good advice, then they may have more than us or be more than us. And there’s the sin. What we have is given by G-d not for us to keep but to give. And just like a candle that illuminates another candle its flame is not diminished, so too when we give and share the gifts and resources that G-d blessed us with, we too are not diminished. In fact, we are increased, for the Torah promises us that we will be blessed and rewarded for giving charity.
In this week’s Torah learning, Re’eh, the Torah speaks about tithing. “According to Jewish tradition, a minimum of 10% of our net earnings are earmarked for tzedakah” (Chabad.org) --that includes poor people too. If you really feel you have nothing, then the next time you go on vacation leave your doors unlocked. The mere fancying of that notion will inspire you as to how much you do have and want to safeguard. Judaism requires a person say at least 100 blessings a day: before one eats; after one eats; after one uses the lavatory; when one sees lightning and thunder; when one puts on new clothing, etc. Once you crush the life-sapping habit of complaining, which Satan endorses, and instead take an accounting of all you are blessed with and how rich you really are, you understand that it’s time to start giving.
In the same parasha, G-d puts before us a blessing and curse. The blessing comes with keeping His commandments. We have free choice. Choose life. He gave you food, lots of it. Keep it kosher. Leave the creepy crawly things for the aardvarks. You're thirsty for a drink. Behold your glass is overflowing, so say the short nine-word prayer to say thanks to G-d. Be a mensch; don’t lap it up like a dog.
The next instruction in the parasha is for the Israelites to destroy all the idols and places of worship of other nations. Why? Because G-d is one! Our well-being doesn’t come from idols, i,e, today’s versions, the stock market, money, the latest gadgets. Our safety, our bread, and our health all come from G-d. Putting confidence or blame on anyone or anything else is worshiping a false god. That is why giving charity to proper causes is so important: It reveals one’s faith in G-d. Instead of hoarding our every dollar, we tithe, give thanks and show faith that G-d will refill our wallets.
The Israelites are also told that they cannot sacrifice to G-d in any place that they see, i.e. “any place that just comes to mind” (Rashi). How often in life do we hear people say, “I’m not religious but I serve G-d in my own way?” Mazal tov to you for founding your own religion. But it is certainly not Judaism. Nowhere in the Torah are we given permission to serve G-d “in our own way.” G-d tells us who, what, where, when and sometimes “why.”
Today with G-d’s help, although I’ve written more and elsewhere, I post my 180th blog on Torah on my blog The Source Weekly: Biblical answers to Life’s Hard Questions. The number 180 of course is significant in Judaism as 18 is chai/LIFE. The number 10 by which it is multiplied to equal 180 is also significant. As there are 10 commandments, 10 plagues, 10 utterances by which G-d created the world. As such I feel that I have reached a blessed milestone. But another significant factor of 180 is that, geometrically speaking, I’ve accomplished a half a revolution which means that my viewpoint is now the complete opposite from where I started. Degree by degree, Torah article after Torah article, parasha after parasha, mitzvah after mitzvah, I now look at the world in a very different way: I’ve come to see G-d in every aspect of my life from the pain to the gain. I’ve learned to say thank you much more often. It changes your world view. I pray to one day celebrate a full revolution, 360 articles, and though I’d once again be facing figuratively the same direction as when I started, once your eyes have known the wisdom of G-d, they never see the same way again. To echo the beautiful words of King David: “Unveil my eyes, that I may behold wonders from Your Torah.” (Psalms 119:18) Shabbat Shalom