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Thought for the Day: Appreciating Each Day and Every Moment of Life

We all hate to feel unappreciated.  I heard a shiur on shalom bayis in which the magid shiur gave a very simple suggestion to improve one's attitude in general about life.  Simply change how one inflects the question "why is this happening to me".  Instead of asking: "Why is this happening to me?" (with appropriate whining), ask: "Why is this happening to me?" (with appropriate introspection).  In other words, the situations in which we find ourselves should be considered as the reading on a thermometer, not the setting on a thermostat.  Whatever measure of control we have is certainly not over those around us, but only on our response.

HaShem created us.  We have existence because He grants it; each and every moment is a new gift of existence.  More than that, He wants us to have eternal existence.  He wants us to have an existence that is without end nor interruption and always at the pinnacle of goodness that is possible.  Since He is the ultimate Good and Source of All, that means for us to connect with Him.  We do that through mitzvos... and attitude; and attitude of appreciation for gift -- existence ! -- that we have been granted.

That appreciation is really, really hard.  First, we seem to have so many difficulties and challenges in our lives.  More than that, though, we just "get used to things".  We expect and take for granted how much He does for us.  Air, for example... when was the last time I even thought to thank HaShem for air?  Or the ability to breathe.  Or food.  Of the ability to eat and digest. Or...

Some of us are fortunate to get personal reminders.  I woke up one morning during chemotherapy and hesitated before I said "modeh ani"/Thank you, HaShem, for giving me another day of life.  I thought to myself, "What do I have to be so thankful for?  I have cancer, I am going through chemotherapy. I have to have blood transfusions because the chemo is killing my blood.  What?"  On the heels of that thought, though, I had another, "Well... sure, there may be 100s of things that are going wrong; but there are millions of things going right.  Things which I do not deserve and for which I did not even need to ask."  So I said "modeh ani" with a bit more kavanah.

I always thought that was pretty good; and, truthfully, it is pretty good.  But the appreciation felt and expressed by the lady in the story below (which I received at part of a daily halacha email I get from the Dirshu organization) puts that to shame.  I am not at all -- not in the slightest -- jealous of her predicament.  I am, however, quite jealous and inspired by her reaction to it.  She shows us all to what heights a human being can ascend in this world.

Two Blessings a Week
Some of us might have developed the tendency to routinely recite blessings by rote. This habit can dull our appreciation for the opportunity to regularly communicate with Hashem and the significance of this aspect of our lives. We might be inspired from the intense regard for blessings demonstrated by the woman in the following story. In Yerushalayim of more than a century past lived an aged woman in poor health. She was paralyzed and lay all day motionless in bed, but her faculties remained acute and she was entirely cognizant of her surroundings. With only her facial muscles under her volition, she retained the ability to speak and eat what she was fed. Although she could not move any of her limbs, she was able to feel some of the pain in different places of her body. Besides the neighbors who helped her eat each day, and occasional visitors, she was mostly alone and uncared for. From time to time Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin would visit her to cheer her up. Difficult as it was to endure the sight of her suffering and the odors which accumulated from the lingering waste in the tiny room which was her home, he understood the extent of her loneliness and the significance of any additional comfort he was able to provide her with his presence, so he extended himself to stay as much as he was able. On one occasion, as he was leaving, he asked the woman how he might bless her. He was astonished to hear her reply, "With a long life." With wonder and amazement he questioned what she had in life that she wished to prolong it. In the face of her ever-present pain and incapacity to care for herself, the extreme poverty and isolation of her condition, lengthening it was her sole wish? The woman's reply made an indelible impression upon the saintly sage. "Twice a week a woman comes in to take care of me. She washes me, changes my clothing for fresh ones, cleans the soiled linen, and airs out the room. You cannot imagine the delight I have during those minutes when my body and the room are both clean enough for me to recite a blessing. I drink a glass of water and am able to recite the words of "שהכל" and "בורא נפשות" if I drink enough. Sometimes I am even able to make a "העץ" or "האדמה" and eat something. Afterwards, my body conditions no longer allow me to recite blessings until the next time she comes, but I can count on twice a week meriting to recite the blessing of "shehakol". I am unwilling to give up even a minute of this life." The belief that a life is worth living, even when tormented by agony and affliction, if only to be able to recite a blessing twice a week, can be readily understood in light of the words of the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo. He states that the intention of all mitzvos is that we should believe in Hashem and acknowledge to Him that He created us. The sole preference that Hashem has from this earth is that man should know and acknowledge to his Lord that He created him. Viewed in this light, the value of life can be assessed by whether it fulfills the purpose for which it was intended, and the woman who was capable of utilizing her life to recite a few blessings each week treasured it and only wished for more.


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