An Attitude of Gratitude

The story is told of a women from the old country named Sarah. Her son Yitzhak set off for America where, everyone had heard, the streets were paved in gold. When he hadn’t written for several months, Sarah asked Shmuel to pen this missive:

“My dear Yitzhak, I have not heard from you in several months and am growing concerned. By me, things are going well. We had a difficult winter -- so much snow! -- and the cold wind came through the crevices in the walls, but thank God, I saw able to seal them with some old garments. The price of food has gone up high, but thank God, day-old bread is much cheaper and this I can afford without difficulty. I still have my job cleaning houses, and I thank God that at my age I am still able to do this kind of work. I am anxious to hear from you. I hope you are happy and successful in America. Love, Mama.”

Shmuel, outraged by Yitzhak’s failure to write to his mother, wrote:

“My dear Yitzhak, What is wrong with you that you have not written to me in so long? Conditions here are terrible. The icy wind blows through the crevices of my walls chilling me to the bone and I have to stuff rags in the holes to get any warmth. I can’t afford decent food so I eat day-old bread. Even at my age, I’m still on my hands and knees every day scrubbing other people’s floors just to put day-old bread in my mouth. And meantime, you’re in America enjoying yourself.”

When Sarah heard Shmuel’s version of her letter, she responded, “Oy, I didn’t know I had it so bad!”

Jewish tradition holds that a Jew should attempt to recite 100 blessings each day. At first glance, it might appear that one would have to put off all appointments and chores and devote the entire day to reciting blessings to reach this quote. Surprisingly, this is not at all the case.

Blessings are recited over food (thanking God for sustenance), for health, prior to observing a commandment, and as part of thrice daily prayers (a combination of praise and thanksgiving). In addition, there are beautiful blessings recited under special circumstances. For example, upon smelling a fragrant tree: Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates fragrant trees. Or upon seeing a wonder of nature (including lightning, shooting stars, vast deserts, high mountains, or a sunrise): Blessed are You... Source of creation. Or upon experiencing a thunderstorm: Blessed are you...Whose power and might fill the whole world. Or upon seeing a rainbow: Blessed are You... Who remembers and faithfully keeps You covenant and Your promise. Or upon seeing someone distinguished in worldly learning: Blessed are You... Who has given wisdom to flesh and blood.

A blessing takes no more than ten seconds to recite. It is not the recitation that consumes time and energy, it is the attitude of gratitude engendered that consumes the one who recites blessings.

Sarah was a woman who approached life with gratitude. She counted her blessings and chose to find blessing in even the hard corners of her life. As a result, she lived a life of blessing. We can too.

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.