Friday, September 4, 2020
There was a story about two friends in the park, and one of them looked pretty glum. One friend inquired of the other, "why do you look so gloomy"? He replied that three weeks ago, he had a distant cousin that passed away who left him fifty thousand dollars. Then two weeks ago, another relative passed away and left me one hundred thousand dollars. And last week my grandmother died and left me a half-million dollars". The friend asked him, "If you had several relatives leave you so much money, why do you look so sad"?" He replied, "It's been almost a week since then, and no other relative has died"!!! I think of this as I contemplate why it is such a challenge for us to have gratitude in our daily life. We learn so much about the benefits of gratitude both in the Torah and secular culture. Gratitude has also been shown to have health benefits as well. Research has shown that it enhances one's mental health and physical health. If that is the case, why do we struggle many times to express out our gratitude? There are various reasons, but I believe that a primary reason is people having false expectations. We frequently have many expectations for the people in our lives. These expectations from our parents, spouses, children, friends, teachers, rabbis, etc. lead us many times to disappointment. It's essential to reassess if our expectations are realistic. Perhaps the expectation needs to be adjusted and recalibrated. (Obviously, every relationship requires a certain amount of commitment and dedication. It's just important to reflect if the expectations we have from others are aligned with reality.) More importantly, it would be valuable to pivot from expecting things to occur to be grateful for whatever we are blessed with in life. There is a compelling mitzvah of Bikkurim at the beginning of this week's Parsha. One was required to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the Beis Hamikdash/Temple in Jerusalem and express his gratitude to G-d for the bounty. One did not have to bring up all the fruits, just a portion of them for this mitzvah. The is emphasizes that when the economy is going well, and there is produce in the field or cash in the register, let us be grateful for the blessing. As the year of 5780 draws to an end, let us reflect on the importance of not expecting the blessings that we have in life and once again recommit to expressing our gratitude to G-d and our fellow man.
As we study this week’s Parsha that has the most mitzvahs of any Parsha in the Torah, we tend to dismiss the lesson of any mitzvah that does not seem to have practical relevance. It must be noted that beyond the narrow scope of the practical application to any mitzvah, there are compelling lessons for us to study. A telling example of this is the prohibition of any Moabite or Ammonite to convert to Judaism. The reality is that there is not any Moab or Ammon nation in our time, and we cannot identify them due to many wars and population transfers over the years. Nonetheless, it is worthy of taking a closer look at the reasons for this. The Torah states as one of the reasons for this conversion ban as the lack of willingness on behalf of the Ammonites and Moabites to greet the Jews traveling in the desert en route to the Land of Israel with bread and water. It would appear that the punishment is far disproportionate to the crime! The nations may not be paragons of practicing kindness, but why should there be a permanent ban on converting to Judaism? In his commentary, the Ramban writes that the nation of Ammonites and Moabites were descendants of the Ammon and Moab, two children fathered by Lot, the nephew of Avraham. The only reason that Lot was saved from the destruction of Sodom was because of Abraham’s merit. Fast forward a few hundred years, and now it is the Jewish People the direct descendants of Abraham who are in distress and in need of assistance. The Ammonite and Moabites refused to extend their hand in our time of need. This reflects not just and lack of kindness but a profound deficiency in gratitude. One of the core values of Judaism is gratitude and a nation that is such lacking gratitude is not eligible to enter the Jewish faith. This message should always serve as a reminder about the importance of remembering our humble roots and of practicing gratitude to G-d and our fellow man.
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