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As I have often pointed out in these columns, Judaism is to be seen not only as a system of laws and commandments but, even more importantly, as a system of values and overriding attitudes. It really is the value system of Judaism that determines the application of the laws and commandments of the Torah. Without a true understanding of the underlying values and attitudes of the holy and eternal Torah, Judaism can often be misinterpreted and even distorted to represent ideas that are in reality antithetical to the Torah itself.

One of the most basic values and attitudes that underlie all Jewish thought and life is that of gratitude…to the creator for implanting within us eternal life, to our parents for having given us physical life, to our employers, and even to the governments that provide for our sustenance and safety. These are the basic components of the Jewish attitude towards life in society.
Gratitude is such a strong and powerful value that it often supplants our own wishes, judgments and perspective on life. It is very hard for human beings to feel gratitude towards parents when they might feel they were unkind or perhaps even abusive. Yet, we certainly can note that the Torah seems to make few, if any exceptions to this overriding value of honoring one’s parents, even after they have departed from this world. It is simply a matter of gratitude for the fact that they gave us life, nurtured us when we were helpless, and looked after us when we were unable to make our own way in life. In effect the Torah is teaching us that the two greatest words in the English language are “thank you.”
The daily prayers of Judaism are replete with expressions of thanks and gratitude. The fault line in Judaism is when one feels that everything one has gained or achieved physically or spiritually is due solely to one's own efforts and wisdom. That type of hubris and arrogance leads to personal and national destruction, as the Torah itself proclaims.
Often times in life there is a very thin line between the necessary self-confidence and self-worth of a person and unwarranted hubris and arrogance. The Torah wants us to define that line, individually and nationally, and to abide by it under all circumstances and situations. It is only a sense of gratitude that keeps a person from overwhelming pride and unacceptable haughtiness. The Torah emphasizes that even the simplest and most basic physical act that our bodies perform is worthy of note and gratitude to the Creator.
A Jew blesses his Creator at least 100 times per day. This is a constant reminder of the value of gratitude that should dominate one’s life and outlook. The tendency of humans is to complain about what we feel is missing and imperfect and to overlook what has been accomplished and achieved. The fact that the glass of life is never quite full, never justifies not appreciating the part of that glass which we can utilize and being grateful for it.
Our generation has been blessed to see events, both personal and national, that were practically undreamt of a half-century ago. I do not understand how one cannot be grateful for living in a time when the Jewish state in the Land of Israel has been miraculously established and successfully taken root. For many Jews, somehow this is not sufficient because of the religious, social and economic shortcomings of the state. Yet, any modicum of a sense of gratitude certainly teaches that we should be inordinately grateful for having seen before our very eyes the fulfillment of many of the predictions of the great prophets of Israel.
We should be grateful that the average lifespan of human beings in much of the Western world and certainly in the State of Israel has increased dramatically in just the past century. Jewish families, who a few short decades ago could only hope to see grandchildren, now can confidently expect not only to see great-grandchildren but even to participate in their life cycle events.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the city of Jerusalem with its hustle and bustle, traffic jams and crowded streets, should be especially grateful for this gift that the Lord has bestowed upon us in our time. In our prayers we beg the Lord to realize our good intents and not our failed behavior. This is a reciprocal prayer because for it to have meaning the Lord demands, so to speak, that we appreciate and treasure what we have and concentrate much less on what we think we are missing.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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