I once read a story of a young couple with a great future as prospective Olympians in the sport of skiing. They practiced long and tedious hours, and along the way developed a relationship that led to love. They decided to get married. Their common interest was skiing, and this was the basis of their relationship. Whenever they conversed, they inevitably reverted to the subject of their chances for an Olympic gold medal.
When the Olympics finally came around, the woman had a terrible accident in the trials which initially left her paralyzed from her shoulders down. Determined that this accident would not stop her from competing, she fought with determination from her wheelchair until she realized one day that this turn of events might be her destiny for the remainder of her life.
When her fiancé visited her, he encouraged her to get well and to get up from her immobile state. He stayed with her until he had to leave to attend a competition, but swore that he would return as soon as the competition was over.
Three months passed and the young lady was making outstanding progress. She called her fiancé, inviting him to visit her in the hospital to share in the remarkable strides that she was making. When he came to the hospital, he saw his fiancée still in her wheelchair, but expected her to surprise him by jumping up and embracing him.
When he finally came close to her, to his shock and dismay she showed him how she had advanced in those past few months. She arduously and painstakingly picked up her fork, placed some food on it, and laboriously and carefully placed it into her mouth. She looked for some expression of approval from her fiancé, but he stood there dumbfounded, in total denial and disbelief.
Often we don’t appreciate the bountiful blessings that are given to us by Almighty G-d, and we take for granted things which we feel are so basic, yet when we think about them, are very profound.
Ask a blind person if it is a miracle that people can see. Ask a deaf person if it is a miracle that people can hear, or a lame person if it is a miracle that people can walk. In each case they will tell you that these are the true miracles in life – the ones we take for granted.
Generally, people don’t appreciate the blessings that are given to them. When I have an appointment with my doctor and am asked to complete a preliminary form delineating my health history, I thank Hashem that I do not have to check most of the ailments listed.
During these trying times of the Covid pandemic, most of us live in comfortable homes; we have all the food we need and all the comforts that one could expect. Yet we don’t focus on giving thanks to G-d for all this bounty that He has bestowed on us even during these challenging times.
Teaching appreciation to children in our Day Schools and yeshivot is equally essential, so that they realize and appreciate the many gifts that they have received from G-d. In my role as a principal, I required that the students keep a journal in which they had to list daily at least two things that they are thankful for. To their amazement and astonishment, they began to realize the bounty of blessings that they had and the appreciation that they should show Almighty G-d for these gifts.
I told the children that when they recite the Shmoneh Esrei, they may insert a special prayer during the bracha of Shema Koleinu and ask G-d for assistance in any area that they feel is important. However, I also explained that before they ask for anything, they should acknowledge the many brachot that they have and express to G-d their thanks and appreciation. Often we are taught to ask while not realizing that we must also express appreciation.
Rav Rimon, the rav of one of the synagogues in Alon Shvut, was congratulating parents on the forthcoming marriage of their children. In his remarks, he congratulated the grandparents on both sides, and then he gave “Mazal Tov” to the great-grandparents who were also sitting amongst the congregation.
When he completed recognizing the presence of all these relatives, he remarked: “Friends, one hundred years ago if I would be standing on this podium before you, I would have rarely been able to recognize grandparents, let alone great-grandparents. Most would have already passed on. Today, we live in miraculous times, and we need to constantly show hakarat hatov to Almighty G-d for all the blessings that he has bestowed upon us.”
The young athlete facing his wheelchair-bound bride could not understand the basic miracles of human existence. At the same time, the young girl who was stricken by this terrible accident realized all at once the enormity of the gifts that she had – ones that she and many of us take for granted: the gift of health and of being able to enjoy life to its fullest.