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Shabbat Parashat R'ei 5774

Ein Ayah: Developing Awareness toward Gratitude

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:14)

Gemara: One who gives a present to his friend should inform him, as the pasuk says: “… my Sabbaths you shall guard, for it is a sign … to know that I am Hashem who sanctifies you” (Shemot 31:13). 

 

Ein Ayah: Gratitude is the greatest ethical pillar, which, when complete in a person, is very helpful in making him a complete person. Even now when people’s hearts are full of spiritual deficiencies, they are still capable of expressing this delicate feeling in word and deed. This is most common and strong regarding honoring parents, especially after their death. Indeed, the trait is deep within the heart. 

When a person is lacking, it is possible for him to have gratitude toward small things and not towards things that are inestimably greater. Thus we find those who are grateful to their parents but not to the one, merciful Hashem to Whom one should have a great thirst to express his realization of His greatness. Due to man’s shortcomings and the vast extent of Hashem’s contributions to us, the full extent of the recognition of Hashem’s impact on us does not enter his heart. When mankind will develop spiritually and people will be able to handle great ideas, their gratitude to Hashem will bring a great light that will improve all of man’s life, as individuals and as a collective. When mankind will reach the peak of its ability to fix the world physically and spiritually, all of mankind will be so grateful to Hashem that they will strive to fix everything in the world and will have an emotional need to express their gratitude through service of Hashem. Therefore, every opportunity that we now have to develop the spirit of gratitude in the world sets the foundation for the bright future.

Since human manners dictate that when one finds out that he received a present, his heart is filled with feelings of thankfulness, Chazal teach us that we should not forgo the opportunity even if the one who gave the present has no interest in the gratitude. It is worthwhile for the setting of the foundation of mankind’s gratitude in such a way that even small feelings can join in the effort to make the whole better.

In the pasuk that the gemara cites, the Torah teaches that the sanctity of Shabbat is supposed to engrain in us gratitude in regard to spiritual presents, i.e., that Hashem sanctifies us. Life bereft of its spiritual element is considered a burden. Even if a person searches for imaginary pleasures to overcome the difficulties of life, this only masks the negative and does not bring absolute goodness. In contrast, Hashem presented us with a life of sanctity in which one can and should pursue goodness and eternal pleasures. When a person realizes that he has been given that opportunity, he will be truly happy and grateful.

Shabbat plays that role, as it is a very holy testament to Hashem’s creation of the world. Shabbat illustrates that our gratitude to Hashem will be fully significant only if people appreciate the benefit of sanctity within life and the fact that it is a present from Hashem, in that He created us with the ability to bring sanctity, make life good, and enable man to thank Hashem in joy.

We learn that the knowledge that enables a person to be grateful is a foundation of the Torah and a sign between Hashem and His nation. That is why it is proper to train people to value recognition of the good they have received, even in regard to matters of limited value. As the world is spiritually embellished, so will the quality of this gratitude develop significantly.

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