Along with the refrain, “This tastes yukky,” a phrase that arguably may be the most frequently and passionately uttered by a child, is this equally popular one, “This is so unfair!”
In a child’s eyes, due to a limited perception and understanding of how life actually works, there are a myriad of daily occurrences that are unjust and unfair. A popular scenario seen as blatantly wrong is when a sibling gets a slightly bigger slice of cake or a brother or sister having a fever and getting to miss school. It’s just not fair!
If we are honest, we will admit that this sentiment doesn’t ever go away even as we mature and become adults – no matter how hard we try. As much as we internalize the concept of emunah, and believe that whatever happens or doesn’t happen is ultimately for our growth and betterment, we still have an inner voice that silently screams, “It’s just not fair!”
For example, I recently was at a Chinese auction fundraiser for a local yeshiva. (Why these events are called Chinese auctions puzzles me as the food is rarely Chinese, and there is no auction where the desired item goes to the highest bidder – it’s more of a lottery where a ticket is pulled out of a container and if it has your name on it you win.)
With bated breath, each person waited to hear his or her name called out – especially if he or she spent a small fortune purchasing dozens of tickets. I imagine there were some disgruntled participants who grumbled that it was so unfair that some people win not one but even two or more of the coveted prizes – like a new European hair, custom-cut sheitel or a trip to Israel, and they didn’t win at all!
But had the disgruntled losers won, had their name been called out, would they have declared that it wasn’t fair? Would they have thought to themselves that it just wasn’t right that they walked out with a prize and their friends didn’t? I highly doubt it. People aren’t wired to think that way, to view a situation where they came out ahead as being unfair.
It is a very human trait to express our hurt and anger over something we perceive as being unjust – and just as human to overlook the inherent “fairness” when something very positive happens to us.
I know that I struggle with a perception of certain aspects of my life not being fair. For this column, I will focus on one that is relatively minor in the scheme of things, but nonetheless manages to frequently raise my ire.
I was recently diagnosed with osteoporosis. This diagnosis came about after a bone density test to possibly explain a cracked rib I endured from doing something I’ve always done – lifting a toddler out of a crib.
My immediate reaction was: “Hey, that’s not fair!” Since my teenage years I have been a “gym rat,” always exercising in some shape or form, whether in an actual gym doing aerobics and weight lifting or walking.
It’s bad enough that despite my being physically active, I have never been slim, but to add insult to injury – actually injury to insult – my well-exercised bones have become “softish.” That’s not fair. I do all the right things and get a bad result, while there are couch potatoes ambling to the fridge on legs of steel!
I know many of you feel the same way, albeit in other areas of your life, both minor and major. You studied hard but failed the math test; you’re so pretty and sweet, but the shadchanim aren’t calling; you have a great resume, but continue to be unemployed; you and your husband are healthy and yet a successful pregnancy remains elusive; you have a debilitating illness – or someone you love does. The list is endless. It’s just totally not fair!
And herein lies the gift of Pesach – it reminds us to look beyond the circumstances that make us feel we got a raw deal and open our eyes to the many brachos we experience in our daily lives.
At the beginning of the Haggadah, the host of the Seder states, “This is the bread of affliction… all who are hungry, come and eat; all who are needy come and celebrate Passover.” The words “hunger” and “needy” can be understood as “I’m starving and I need food and shelter” but can also be understood as “I’m feeling deprived: I need a spouse, a job, children, acceptance.” This is often accompanied by an overwhelming and despairing sense of “This is not fair. It’s just not fair!”
Certainly if a person is “hungry” for the “food” that seemingly comes easily to other people –good health, parnassah, marriage, respectful children – one can’t help feeling it’s so unjust that he doesn’t have these blessings as well, especially if he feels he is doing all the right things to attain them. Why her/him and not me?
Pesach puts all this in proper perspective. Matzah is held up and called the bread of affliction. Yet, all who are hungry and needy, who are lacking essential “ingredients” in their lives, are welcome to eat. They are invited to have optimism and hope infused in their souls. The seder provides food for thought with its life-enhancing message: our ancestors suffered horrifically, there were many obstacles blocking their path to well-being and happiness, but eventually their painful reality was turned totally around and there was relief, redemption and, finally, the arrival in the Promised Land. After centuries of oppression, the nation could say, “This is fair!”
Pesach’s message is one of hope and salvation from your personal bread of affliction. For all who are hungry and needy – who are suffering, who are weighed down by the slavery of what is missing in their lives – there can be a happy ending. From being weighed down and emotionally stooped by resentment over a sense of unfairness, one can be literally enlightened with an attitude change triggered by open-eyed appreciation and hakarat hatov for what one does have!
If you are hungry, or feeling deprived, come and “eat.” In other words, appreciate what you do have. Internalize the words of Dayainu, which means “This is enough, we are satisfied.” We are reminded to appreciate Hashem’s incredible brachos and focus on what we do have – as opposed to feeling cheated over what is lacking. If You gave me “this” but didn’t give me “that” – it is enough! I am blessed enough.