Jews are known as Yehudim. “Yehudim” means people who give thanks. One of the fundamentals of our Jewish identity is constantly thanking Hashem for all the good He bestows upon us.
Indeed, Hashem took us out of Egypt and chose us as His nation just so that we would relate His praises. And we are characterized by the power of our voice: “Hakol kol Yaakov.”
Praising is a sophisticated art. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, we add a special prayer, “Nishmas kol chai tevareich es shimcha – The soul of every person blesses your name, Hashem.” We add this beautiful prayer specifically on Shabbos and Yom Tov because we have an extra neshama on those days, and prayer emanates, not simply from our mouths, but from the depths of our souls.
The Chovos HaLevavos teaches us that prayer without thought is like a body without a soul and a peel without fruit. As such, it behooves us to ensure that we are saying our prayers meaningfully, sincerely, and with concentration.
Many years ago, a young couple was blessed with a daughter shortly after their marriage. Since the new father was in kollel and living on an austere budget, he asked Rav Shach, zt”l, whether it was necessary for him to make a Kiddush in celebration of his daughter’s birth.
Rav Shach asked him, “If you needed to wait eight years and then you had your daughter, would you make a Kiddush?’ The young man unhesitatingly answered, “Of course! That would be a real simcha.” Rav Shach replied, “Then isn’t it an even bigger simcha that you didn’t have to wait eight years?”
This story illustrates a very great lesson. We need to thank Hashem, not just for what we have, but also for what He has spared us from. When we go through a Pesach and don’t need to worry about blood libels; when we go shopping for Pesach items without worrying about being spotted by spies of a dreaded Inquisition; when we sit at the Seder table with all our family members in good health, with marital harmony, and sufficient finances, we need to focus on how thankful we must be for all the possible hardships from which Hashem has spared us.
When our children are all sitting around the Seder table and have not strayed from the ways of our ancestors, our hearts should be overflowing with gratitude to the Almighty. So let’s take this lesson away with us: Be thankful and show appreciation frequently and devoutly for all of Hashem’s blessings.
As we know, many people are suffering financially during these turbulent economic times. Mutual funds are disastrous, stock portfolios are plummeting, bank dividends are almost non-existent, and the job market is very weak. The Gemara tells us (Berachos 35a) that there is a contradiction between two verses. One verse says, “Hashem la’aretz u’melo’ah – To Hashem is the world and its fullness,” while another one says, “V’ha’aretz nosan lifnei adam – The earth was given to mankind.”
Which one is it? Is the world the property of G-d or was it handed to us? The Gemara answers, “Kan lifnei habracha, kan l’achar habracha – Before we make a blessing, the world belongs to Hashem; after a blessing it belongs to us.”
Thus, we are taught that whoever eats or drinks without saying a blessing is stealing from Hashem and, furthermore, a home in which blessings are not said before eating is essentially a den of thieves. If you are experiencing financial problems, consider your dedication to saying blessings. It’s logical that Hashem might not shower you with fiscal blessings if you turn around and steal from Him.
In any event, this Talmudic passage teaches us once again the importance of praising and thanking Hashem at all times. In the merit of our showing proper appreciation to Hashem, may He bless us all with good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.