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July 24, 2014 / 26 Tammuz, 5774
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It’s How You Look At It

It’s hard to believe Rosh Hashanah is just days away. It seems like we were just putting away our Pesach dishes and hoping that the looming summer months would not be too unbearably hot and humid.


Now, suddenly, early autumn is upon us – with its promise of soothing cool breezes to chase away those damp, draining dog days of late summer.


And with autumn comes the Days of Awe, at which time we take time out from our busy lives, set aside the hustle and bustle and distractions that fill our waking hours – and think about the “why” of our lives. We stop to ponder the purpose of our existence, and if we are actually fulfilling our Creator’s expectations. We seek forgiveness from both Him and our fellow man, as we open our reluctant eyes to the error of our ways and vow to make improvements and amends.


We also take time to pray with all our might that the coming year will bring with it improvements and amendments – even if “on paper” our life is really quite pleasant.
For no matter how much “good” we have in our lives, there is always something we feel is lacking. Human nature is such that we always want more. We are not satisfied with the largesse we do have, and thus do not derive satisfaction from it. This unfortunate attitude, usually fueled by greed and a warped sense of entitlement, is very self-defeating. The belief that one is deprived or lacking stops one from enjoying what he/she has. Some people, especially entrenched with this trait, are never b’simcha because they feel bereft. 
Only those who appreciate what they have can truly enjoy them.


In many circumstances the “improvements” a person desires are quite reasonable. They want better health, a secure parnassah, or to have children and experience nachat from them. They want those children to get married after meeting their basherts. And of course they may feel loss or deprivation in their lives if they lack one or more of the aforementioned.


Some advice: They should daven – not just on Rosh Hashanah, but every day – for relief from the status quo.


Yet until that happens, they still can see improvements in the coming year by enjoying and appreciating what they do have.


There is a story of two young men in wheelchairs on the grounds of a rehab facility. One says to the other (a new patient he has just met), “Look at that!” and points to an elderly man walking spryly along the sidewalk. “How unfair,” he exclaims in a bitter voice. “We are so young, and look at him. He looks like a dinosaur and he is able to walk.”


His companion says nothing. The man snorts with anger and shouts, “We’re stuck in wheelchairs for the rest of our lives, and this old relic not only is alive but is practically speed walking. Don’t you see him? He must be at least 90.” After a few moments of silence, the other patient said, “No, I don’t see him; I’m blind.”


Sometimes our lives can get better, not because the “facts on the ground” have changed but because our perception of it does. Just the other week I was a guest for Shabbat lunch, where my hostess bemoaned the fact that the meat in her cholent must have been spoiled – so she tossed it. I told her that friends of mine in Texas were in their second week without power because of Hurricane Ike, and were living on tuna fish and canned beans. Hence the cold cuts and cold chicken we ate were very enjoyable – and much appreciated.


There is no question that there is much to daven for this Yom Tov. The State of Israel and the klal are facing both physical and spiritual threats to their existence. The economy has become very shaky, with many in the community facing unemployment or decimation of their investments and/or the loss of their homes.


Many young people are in despair at being single for much longer than they ever imagined, and one in six couples are extremely distraught at being involuntarily childless. There are children who break their parents’ hearts by rejecting their heritage and Yiddishkeit, and there are families being torn apart by a lack of shalom bayis. Disease, bad health and other life-challenging mishaps seem to be raining down on our community, and life in general seems to be more challenging than ever before.


Yet even if things stay the same for now, we can still see improvement and progress in our lives. All we have to do is open our eyes and feel hakarat hatov for the things we have always taken for granted.


May you all have a successful davening this year!

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