I saw an ad for a Rav Shalom Arush book on gratitude. I tried to find information about where to get it, but before I could find out, someone knocked on my door. It was a Breslover selling… Rav Arush’s books on gratitude. Talk about Hashgacha Pratit! My son couldn’t understand why I was so enthusiastically welcoming this guy into our home. I bought one book for me in English and one for him in Hebrew.
The book, Say “Thank You” and See Miracles: The Garden of Miracles, is one in the library of Rav Arush’s prolific writings and it explains, illustrated by 190 stories, how thanking G-d brings miracles and is the key to blessings and salvation.
I have a 20-minute walk from the bus to the office where I work, so I tried Rav Arush’s suggestion of spending time every day thanking G-d not only for the good in my life but for the bad – because inherent in the bad is good since everything Hashem does is good. I didn’t find it easy, but then I experienced a sort of illustration of how this gratitude thing works.
I am culinarily challenged but I love to eat. My next-door neighbor made sfinge (Moroccan donuts) and brought some over for us. I was effusive in my thanks. So, not surprisingly, when she made latkes and donuts during Chanukah a couple of weeks later, she brought me some. And they were delicious! It doesn’t take a genius to work out that what inspired her to bring me food a second time was my reaction the first time. If someone is so happy, grateful, and appreciative, wouldn’t you be motivated to give to that person a second time?
So along with my gratitude sessions, I decided to be more aware of saying thank you to people who deserve acknowledgment along the way – service providers, bus drivers, and the like – which I’m not always good at doing. I’m having trouble with maintaining this practice because I was taught over and over again to cry out to Hashem for my needs and wants. The gate of tears is never locked, right?
Meanwhile, there is a person in my neighborhood whom I dread seeing. She is the personification of martyrdom (at least when she talks to me). She’s always complaining about her woes in dramatic tones, tears, and woebegone sighs. It’s very hard for me to talk to her. I don’t mind people telling me their troubles (especially if I can help) but it’s this woman’s melodramatic delivery and intense negativity that makes me crazy. I literally feel that I have to shower after having all this negativity spewed on me. And people like this don’t want help or advice. They just want confirmation of how tragic their situation is.
But then I got it – the figurative asimon fell (the Israeli version of the penny dropping). When I’m pouring out my woes to Hashem, I sound like this woman, and those of her ilk, who vie for most victimized, hard-done-by, and miserable on the planet. It’s not that my troubles aren’t real or deserving of prayer, but the way I plead my case is not conducive to Divine favor. Of course G-d is not subject to human foibles, but doesn’t it make more sense that He appreciates reactions like mine to my neighbor’s sfinge more than tearful petitions with embedded complaints that I am not getting what I deserve?
Don’t we all focus a little too much on what we are lacking than what we are blessed with? And isn’t everything meant to be a blessing even if it is hidden? Aren’t strife and tribulations meant to bring us closer to G-d? And can’t we get closer to Him by thanking Him for our trials the same way we plead to have them removed?
The answer to all the above is a resounding yes! G-d tells us in the Torah that we have been punished because we did not rejoice enough in His gifts to us. Rav Arush further teaches that gratitude is the key to unlocking salvation not only for the individual but for all Am Yisrael, and if only we all practiced it, we would bring Moshiach in the same way that we would have entered Eretz Yisrael 40 years earlier if only we had not whined. Wouldn’t that be nice?
It isn’t that we can’t ask for our deepest needs or even innermost wants, but we must first preface our requests with gratitude both for our blessings and our perceived non-blessings, and be like Rav Zushia who couldn’t understand how we are told to bless the bad when he claimed that nothing bad had ever happened to him. King David, who had one of the more afflicted lives, poured out his heart in praises to G-d, and today we are all aware of the salvation inherent in reciting Tehillim – the power of gratitude expressed during trials and tribulations.
We have to live up to our name as Yehudim – people who give thanks – and then we will see all the blessings in our lives, G-d willing. Won’t that be as sweet as sfinge?