Monday, Jun 10, 2024

Thank You, Hashem

There is a current that runs through the entirety of Torah, a network of threads connecting various parshiyos and episodes just beneath the surface. The very first human error, the shoresh of all human transgression, transpired when Chava persuaded Adam Harishon to eat from the fruit of the Eitz Hada'as. That sin was a mistake that would alter the course of history.

Generations later, there was an opportunity to reach perfection. Had Am Yisroel entered Eretz Yisroel following Matan Torah, they would have acquired dimensions of greatness that were lost when Adam and Chava sinned and were chased out of Gan Eiden.

However, following the incident of the meraglim, the great men sent to spy out the Promised Land and Klal Yisroel displayed cowardice and lack of faith, rejecting the chance to merit Eretz Yisroel and return to the heights with which man was created.

It is interesting that of all the things the meraglim could have brought back as souvenirs from their trip, they chose fruits to show the people that the Promised Land was not a realistic option for them. Once again, we encounter a sin involving fruits.

When the people ultimately reached Eretz Yisroel, they were given the mitzvah of bikkurim to pay homage to the Holy Land and offer gratitude to Hashem for the fruits of His land.

The Arizal reveals the significance of bikkurim. He notes that Adam and Chava sinned with fruits. The meraglim had a chance to rectify that original transgression, but they failed.

A common denominator between these two aveiros that involved fruit was the middah of kefias tovah, ungratefulness. When confronted by Hakadosh Boruch Hu, Adam blamed the transgression on his wife: “ha’ishah asher nosata imadi – the wife You’ve given me” (Bereishis 3:12). He was ungrateful for the gift of companionship Hashem had granted him.

The meraglim had an opportunity to accept the greatest gift. Instead, they displayed ingratitude of the highest degree and rejected it. In retelling the story, the posuk says, “Vayimasu b’eretz chemdahAnd they despised a desirable land” (Tehillim 106:24).

Bikkurim was thus a chance to rectify the two sins through honoring the fruits of Eretz Yisroel. The mitzvah is performed with a special nusach, which is recited in a loud voice. Why? Rashi (Devorim 26:3) explains that it is to show that we are not ingrates – “she’eincha kofui tov.” We express gratitude in order to repair the schism that was created by the previous, historic ingratitude.

Rav Menachem Ziemba brings a proof to the Arizal’s point. The Mishnah in Maseches Bikkurim delineates the process of bringing bikkurim. The farmer goes into the field and ties a gemi string around the fruits that seem ready to be picked. The examples used by the Mishnah are te’ainah, gefen and rimon, figs, grapes and pomegranates, the very fruits that the meraglim brought back from Eretz Yisroel to convince the Jewish people that the land wasn’t fit for them.

The lesson endures. Gratitude is the greatest segulah, the best guarantee for continued brochah. The customer who always smiles and thanks the proprietor will likely be the first to get served the next time he comes. Gratitude is itself a reason for shefa to flow.

Being a person of thankfulness is easier said than done. It doesn’t mean mindlessly offering up verbal appreciation. It requires contemplation and reflection, not just about the blessings we have received, but also about the many problems and difficulties we’ve been fortunate to avoid.

In fact, hakoras hatov comes with a mandate. It means using the gifts with which we’ve been bestowed to express thanks and to live lives of kavod Shomayim by helping others and sharing what we have been given.

We say in davening, “Illu finu malei shirah kayom… Ein anachnu maspikim… If our mouths would be filled with song as the sea…we wouldn’t be able to communicate our thanks to You.”

The tefillah continues: “Al kein eivorim shepilagta bonu, veruach uneshamah shenofachta be’apeinu…hein heim yodu viyivorchu…they will thank you.”

We just declared that our faculties are inadequate to give thanks to the Ribbono Shel Olam for all the good He does for us. How, then, do we conclude the statement by declaring that our limbs will give appropriate thanks?

One answer is that we are indeed incapable of properly expressing our thanks. The only option is for us to live our thanks by taking those gifts He gave us and using them to fulfill His will and walking along the path He designed for us. That is the way we convey appreciation.

Just a few minutes from my home in Monsey, NY, is an institution that embodies this lesson, a place where people use the capacities and kochos that Hashem gave them to the fullest every day. The staff members at Ohr V’Daas work above and beyond whatever it says in their contract, driven, as they are, by dedication and love for their students. It’s their way of expressing thanks for the skills, patience and wisdom Hashem has given them.

The students at Ohr V’Daas emulate the staff, pushing themselves. Broken as they may appear, each and every one of these lichtige kinderlach is a hero, working to be productive and useful.

Every so often, we, the admiring public, get to do our part too. We pay tribute to the vision and work ethic of a staff who pour their lifeblood into helping these special children develop. They acknowledge the resolve and perseverance of the children. They take what they were handed, their “eivorim shepilagta banu,” with their challenges and handicaps, and they try their best. As we read in last week’s haftorah, “Lo bechayil velo bekoach.” These children battle, but not with power or might, because, in fact, they are physically weak. Ki im beruchi. They fight on with their spirit, of which they have in abundance.

I am being honored at Ohr V’Daas’s upcoming dinner. Let me tell you, it is very uncomfortable to be honored. It’s so difficult to ask people for money and help. But how could I say no to a heroic group of people, including the wonderful staff, the valiant parents and the students of this remarkable school? Besides, it offered an opportunity to express thanks to the Ribbono Shel Olam who allows me to walk, write, speak, have much nachas, and so much more.

In fact, we are here in this world to help others and be grateful. Seforim explain the posuk of “Ashirah laHashem bechayai” to mean: “I sing to Hashem. How? Bechayai, with my life.” When lived properly, life itself becomes a long, uninterrupted ode to Him.

What better way to show appreciation for our children, our nachas, and all the blessings that surround us than by helping parents charged with special needs neshamos enjoy their well-deserved nachas?

A man once traveled from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak to inquire about a bochur in the Ponovezh Yeshiva who was being redd for his daughter. He met the rosh yeshiva, Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, and asked him if he can ask a few questions. He proceeded to pose 19 questions. When he was done, Rav Shmuel said, “Now it’s my turn to ask some questions.”

“What would you like to ask?” said the father.

“He is in a dormitory with other boys,” said Rav Shmuel. “You didn’t ask how he deals with his friends. You should have. You should have asked if he makes his bed and if he brushes his teeth. You should have asked how he conducts himself when he enters his room late at night and the other boys are already sleeping.

“You should have asked how he behaves in the dining room. Does he always have to be first on line and does he grab the first portion? Does he ever go into the kitchen and let the cook know that the food was tasty?

“When the pitcher of juice on the table is empty, does he go into the kitchen to fill it or does he wait for someone else to do that?”

The way we treat other people is an indication of who we are. The way we treat people from whom we have no benefit is an even greater indication of who we are. When determining what type of people we are, we would do well to look in the mirror and seriously respond to the types of questions posed by Rav Rozovsky. To the degree that we care about others and are helpful, kind, generous and gracious, we are good people. And who doesn’t want to be considered a good person?

The children of Ohr V’Daas depend on good people to have joy in this world. Born without the same capabilities as others, they need the extra patience, love and care that a place like Ohr V’Daas provides.

Through this institution, the special children enrolled there are taught how to behave, how to interact with others, and how to maximize their potential.

Every person’s job in this world is to use the kochos Hashem gave him as best as possible. These children also have kochos and intelligence, but it is hidden and requires painstaking effort to be realized.

While visiting the school, I met Mecheleh, a boy who said he lains the parsha every week in two Monsey shuls. I thought that maybe he was fantasizing, or perhaps they let him think that he lains but there is really a separate baal kriah, so I asked him to lain. He lains beautifully, like a professional. And he is an Ohr V’Daas student.

Another boy, Shaya, made a siyum on Mishnayos Shabbos. After conducting an impromptu farher, we saw that he knows what he learned as well as a child in a regular school. And he is an Ohr V’Daas student.

Yitzy, an 11-year-old boy, was progressing, but he was having difficulty with reading. The solution was for him to be placed in a class of beginners. The boy was working so hard to get to where he was and the staff didn’t want to hurt his feelings. They decided to discuss the matter with Yitzy himself. The principal, teacher and monitor called him into the office for a meeting. They told him how proud they were of him and how nicely he had progressed. “But there is this ivra problem. We think that the best way for you to improve would be for you to join a class with 4- and 5-year-olds. What do you think?”

Yitzy thought for a while and said, “You know, Rabi Akiva was 40 years old when he went to learn with young children. I am only 11. If he could do it, so can I. And if that is what is needed for me to learn ivra, then that is what I will do!” Yitzy is also an Ohr V’Daas student.

Other children and teenagers there proudly showed off their work and accomplishments. The school gives the students dignity and purpose, while easing the burden on their families.

The nisayon faced by parents of special children is something that most of us, thankfully, don’t experience. They suffer in silence, shedding tears when no one is watching. Their pain is immense, their pekel so heavy, yet they don’t complain. They take it in stride. They seek out the best for their children and expend so much energy on their behalf. They are heroic in their strength and determination. There is so much we wish we could say to them, yet the words fail us. We want them to know that we appreciate what they do, but we don’t want to be hurtful. More often than not, we avoid the topic.

Contributing to Ohr V’Daas is a way for us to show them that we care. It’s a way for us to show them that we recognize their daily struggles and appreciate their strength and stamina. We can only imagine how hard it must be for them and often wonder what we can do to help lessen their load.

Enabling Ohr V’Daas to continue to provide a home away from home every day for these children is a way of showing that we care. Enabling Ohr V’Daas to continue educating their children and teaching them skills that others take for granted is a way of showing support. Enabling Ohr V’Daas to continue to develop the charm, sweetness and love of these children is a way of showing these parents that we really do care about them and appreciate their daily struggles.

And, of course, helping Ohr V’Daas shows that we appreciate what we have.

Rav Yosef Liss was a talmid of the Brisker Rov who went on to achieve renown as a tzaddik. When Rav Yosef arrived in Eretz Yisroel after enduring the horrors of the Holocaust, the Brisker Rov suggested a shidduch for him. The couple met and married, but they weren’t blessed with children. Their pain grew with every passing year.

Someone asked Rav Liss why he didn’t ask his rebbi and shadchan, the Brisker Rov, for a brochah. Rav Liss, in explaining his reticence to ask his rebbi for a brochah, said that he feared that if he would mention anything to him, there would be an implicit kefias tovah. Perhaps the Rov would perceive some element of grievance in his words, and it would appear that he didn’t appreciate the shidduch the Rov had arranged. On the remote chance that such a feeling would be caused, he sacrificed the chance for a brochah from the man he so revered for something so important to him.

Rav Shimshon Pincus would say that shortly after Rav Liss made that comment, Rav Liss and his rebbetzin were blessed with a child. Their refinement, middos and deep sense of hakoras hatov contributed to bringing about the yeshuah.

Hakoras hatov is fundamental, because it’s connected to man’s ability to see past himself and to appreciate that, essentially, nothing we have is ours.

Hakoras hatov means surveying your community and finding a mosad like Ohr V’Daas, where people limited in health, energy or intelligence are doing their best to get through the day. Hakoras hatov means that each of us, blessed with overflowing reservoirs of these precious resources, have to give back, saying thank you by sharing, empathizing and making their battle ours.

You can show that you appreciate the blessings Hashem gave you by supporting Ohr V’Daas. Show you appreciate the nachas you derive from your children. Show that you appreciate your good health.

Rav Shneur Kotler, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah in Lakewood, was engaged to be married to his rebbetzin when World War II broke out. They remained separated throughout the duration of the war. Finally, in 1946, they were able to marry.

Rav Shneur, who was then learning in Eretz Yisroel, went to bid farewell to his grandfather, the famed gaon, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, and seek his blessing. His zaide warmly bentched the chosson and walked him to the door. He accompanied him down the first two of the many steps and then returned to his home.

A talmid who had watched the scene asked Rav Isser Zalman when he came back into the house why he only accompanied Rav Shneur down the first two steps and didn’t walk him to the street for a final heartfelt goodbye.

Rav Isser Zalman responded that he didn’t descend all the steps “because there were so many young people who weren’t able to marry.”

His simcha was tempered because hundreds of thousands of young people who had not yet married were cut down during the prime of their lives by the Nazis and their accomplices. How could his simcha be complete when there was so much sadness in the world? He couldn’t bring them back to life. He couldn’t get them married off. He couldn’t produce children for them to perpetuate their memories. But at least he could feel for them.

When we enjoy our good fortune, when we have nachas from our children, there ought to be a place in our hearts for those parents and children who have it more difficult. How can we be so happy when we know that there are people struggling for a small measure of the nachas we enjoy?

We can do something about it. We can translate our feelings into something real. We can help those children realize their potential. We can help them read, write, learn Torah, do mitzvos, be productive, and bring nachas to their families.

Let us bring our bikkurim. Let us show Hashem that we appreciate the gifts He has bestowed upon us. That will help us be cognizant of what we have and reap more.



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