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To Be Grateful

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 21/10/2019

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To Be Grateful

Chazal teach one who has 100 (money) wants 200.[1] We see this by those dissatisfied with the מן—although they had enough food every day that could taste according to their desires, they still complained.[2] Therefore, if we rearrange the word מנה (currency)—which is equivalent to 100 זוז—it also spells המן, the מן.


Are we so much different? Do we appreciate the gifts we have? Kings in prior times didn’t have the luxuries that we do. The material possessions and comforts that we take for granted were unimaginable a few generations ago. Walking down an aisle at Wal-Mart everything is available in whatever color, shape or texture we desire and for the most part, we have the money to buy it.


Not too long ago a new Russian immigrant to the United States went to a supermarket in America. Upon seeing the abundance at the produce section, she fainted as she was overcome with emotion since she never saw so much food so readily available.[3] In the Russian communist regime, it was a regular part of the day to wait for hours in food lines. And us—if we are held up for 10 minutes at the checkout counter we get upset.


A woman who grew up in the 1930s once recalled that she had two dresses—one for weekday and one for Shabbos. This was normal then as she was from a typical home.


After World War Two, many who emigrated from Poland to America couldn’t believe that there was a bathroom in the apartment as they were accustomed to use outhouses whether it was freezing cold or sweltering hot.


                Another woman described how she lived before the First World War in Poland as her family was considered well off. She lived in a two-room house—one for the parents and one for the children. In the children’s room they slept, ate, played cooked, bathed and cleaned their clothes. Additionally, these rooms were small. They had furniture which consisted of a bare table and a few chairs, dirt floors and wood-burning fireplaces that had to be stocked by chopping trees. Their walls were filled with cracks that let in the cold air of the winter but held in the heat of the summer. They rode horses to the market and bathed only on special occasions. In addition, they had no phones, television, running water or electricity.


When R’ Alexander Ziskind would put on his Shabbos clothing on Friday, he would thank Hashem with great happiness. He would think to himself that there are bigger Tzadikim than me who don’t have such clothing.[4] Also, he would thank Hashem for his weekday clothing especially for his winter clothes which without, he would be in tremendous discomfort from the cold. [5]  


This was the opposite of Haman. He was someone that no matter what he possessed, it was worthless to him—כל זה איננו שוה לי—because Mordechai didn’t bow to him. Thus, Haman follows the dictum ‘one who has 100 wants 200,’ as he was never satisfied with what he had. Is it any surprise that the word מנה consists of the same letters as המן. Now we can grasp why the Gemara teaches a hint to Haman in the Torah from the tree Adam ate from—המן מן התורה מנין? המן העץ—as Adam was allowed to eat from all the trees besides one. [6]Yet, that is what he ate from. The same is with Haman in that everyone bowed to him except Mordechai. Let us take a lesson from this and appreciate all that we have.

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Koheles Rabba 1:34.

[2] Bamidbar 11. See Bamidbar 11:5, Rashi. There is a saying “The grass is greener where you water it.”

[3] An article in the New York Times in December 2017 related that the United States as a whole wastes more than $160 billion in food a year. It is also written there that in wealthy countries, especially in the United States and Canada, around forty percent of wasted food is thrown out by consumers. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the world produces enough food waste—about 1.4 billion tons—to feed as many as 2 billion people each year.

[4] Professor Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Professor Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami asked two groups of students to spend time journaling: one group was asked to record their day’s activities, and a second group was asked to record what they were grateful for. The students who spent time each week chronicling what they were thankful felt markedly more optimistic and happier about their lives (Students who recorded neutral journal entries reported no such gains.)

[5] יסוד ושרש העבודה, Tzaava, p. 786, Siman 29. R’ Avigdor Miller comments that this is one of the intentions we should have in mind in the Bracha of מלביש ערומים.

[6] Chullin 139b. Breishis 3:11, 3:2-3. R’ Yisrael Salanter once bought water in a hotel. Being shocked at the large bill, they explained to him that he was not just paying for the water but also the ambiance and atmosphere. He then understood the meaning in the Bracha שהכל נהיה בדברו as we are not just thanking Hashem for the water but also where the water came from, that it is good for the body, having a healthy body to taste it and so on.

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