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ArticlesAppreciating Our Wealth (Part I)
by Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier - TheShmuz.com
One of the great works on Jewish Thought, the Duties of the Heart, gives a parable. Imagine a man who, at age 35, becomes blind. For the next ten years he does his best to reconstruct his life, but now without sight. Being a fighter, he struggles to create a productive life for himself. One day, his doctor informs him of an experimental procedure that, if successful, would enable him to see again. He is both frightened and exuberant. If it works he regains his sight; if it fails, he might die.
He gathers together his family to talk it over. After much debate he announces, ‘I am going ahead with it.’ The operation is scheduled. The long awaited day arrives. Paralyzed with dread, he is wheeled towards the operating room. Given sedatives, he sleeps through the 10-hour operation.
When he wakes up, the first thought on his mind is to open his eyes. He prepares himself for the moment. He will now find out how he will spend the rest of his life. He gets ready. He musters up his courage and flexes his eyelids. They don’t move! In a panic he cries out for the nurse. She calmly explains that the bandages won’t come off for at least three more days. So he waits. Each moment is like a decade, each hour is a like lifetime. Finally it is time. With his family gathered around, with the doctors and nurses at his side, the surgeon begins removing the gauze. The first bandage is off; now the second. The surgeon says, ‘Open your eyes’ He does. And he sees!
For the first time in ten years, he looks out and experiences the sights of this world --and he is struck by it all. Struck by the brilliance of colors and shapes; moved by the beauty and magnificence of all that is now in front of him. He looks out the window and sees a meadow, covered with beautiful, green grass. He sees flowers in full bloom. He looks up and sees a clear, blue sky. He sees people, faces, loved ones that have been only images in his mind-- the sight of his own children that he hasn’t seen in ten years. Tears well in his eyes, as he speaks, ‘Doctor. What can I say? What can I ever do to repay you for what you have given me! This magnificent gift of sight. Thank you.’
This extreme joy and sense of appreciation, is something that we should feel regularly. The feeling of elation that man felt when he regained his sight is something that we can feel on a daily basis; if we go through the process of training ourselves to feel it. We have this most precious, unparalleled gift called sight and it is something that we are supposed to stop and think about. Not once in a lifetime, not even once a year, but every day. A part of our spiritual growth is learning to appreciate the gifts that we have. One of the blessings, said in the morning, thanks HASHEM for this most wonderful gift of sight. It was designed to be said with an outpouring of emotion.
We humans are a curious breed. We can have treasures for years, not once thinking of the wealth that we have been given; not once stopping to appreciate them. Not taking a moment to be thankful for them, until something happens, and we lose that gift. Then, it is ‘God why me? Of all the people on the planet why did you pick me?’ Till then there wasn’t a moment of reflection. Not one thank you. Not one word of appreciation. Not even a recognition of it being a gift. Now that it is gone the complaints find their home.
Unfortunately, we don’t take the time to think about the many gifts that we have. We become so accustomed to them that we almost don’t know they exist until they are taken. How many times do we stop and appreciate that we have legs with which to walk, and hands with which to hold? How many mornings do we wake up and just take the time to recognize that we have our health and well being? How much richer is our life because we have eyes with which to see, fingers with which to feel, ears with which to hear, a tongue with which to taste, and a nose with which to smell?
Each of these senses was created by HASHEM; created with much wisdom and forethought; created for a specific intention, so that we should live a fuller, richer, more complete life -- so that we should enjoy our stay on this planet. There is so much about this world that we live in that was custom designed, specifically for our enjoyment. But it takes focusing; it takes training, to learn to appreciate the riches that we possess.
To help do that, I want you to take a step back from life as we know it, a step back in time, to the very moment when HASHEM created the world. Picture if you will vast emptiness. Nothing. Absolute absence of anything.
I remember when my daughter was 6 years old and we were discussing creation, there was one question that she couldn’t come to terms with. ‘Abba’, She said to me. ‘I can understand that before HASHEM created the world there was nothing, not even light and dark, but what color was it?’
The difficulty that she was feeling was that we are so used to the world as it is, that the concept of before creation is difficult for us to fathom. The idea of the absence of anything; before there was a world, before there was even matter, or space, or any substance to hold it in, is very difficult for us corporeal beings to deal with. We keep falling back to our way of viewing things in a physical setting, and absolute void has no place in our world.
But let’s try for a moment to envision a vast empty nothingness. There is no space, no matter, there isn’t even time, because time only exists in a physical world. And creation begins. Out of nothing, because there is nothing; from nowhere, because there is no place; at this absolute first moment in time, HASHEM brings forth matter, the very building blocks of creation. Then darkness and light, not even separated, but intermingled --a patch of light here a flash of darkness there. Next comes the heavens and earth; then the planets and stars, the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all of the animals of the earth; then on the final day at almost the last moment of creation, man.
Every part of creation has to be thought out. There are no givens. There is no imitating or accepting the status quo, because before creation there is nothing to imitate or use as a model. Every part and every element of this world has to be thought of, planned, and designed from scratch. When we take this huge leap of understanding, I think we will see the abundance of goodness that HASHEM has bestowed upon the world.
Let’s start with something very basic-- colors. The world that we live in is fantastically rich in color, with so many different gradations, shades, and hues.
Now, this is something that we take for granted. Of course there is color in the world, it was always there. But HASHEM created this thing that we call color, and He put it in the world for a particular reason-- so that we should enjoy sights. The world didn’t have to be this way, if G-d was only concerned with functionality -- creating a world that could be used -- black and white would have sufficed. We would still be able to recognize everything, even shadows and depth, within the spectrum of the gray scale. If you remember watching black and white TV, it did a fine job, but it is lacking in a dimension, and so we don’t enjoy it as much. HASHEM wants us to enjoy this world and so He created an entity called color.
Look out on a fall day, and see the trees in their glory; the seemingly endless array of reds, oranges, and brilliant yellows, forming a magnificent tapestry stretching across the mountains. Look out at the sun as it sets, and you can see the most radiant show of color, the full spectrum of an artist’s pallet, painted against a powdery gray backdrop.
If the world was created for practical reasons only, all of the beauty that we witness wouldn’t have to be. But HASHEM put it all here, from magnificent floral scenes, to exotic sea life; from the glory of the night sky to the clear aqua green of the ocean; from a flower in bloom to the plume of a jungle parrot; all of the pomp and ceremony of a sunrise-- a world created in Technicolor. Why create it that way? Why not make it all black and white? Keep it plain, keep it simple. Why go through all of the effort? The answer is for one reason -- so that man should enjoy. HASHEM did all of this for us. So that we should look out at the world, and enjoy its beauty. When we focus on this and understand the many features that HASHEM put into this world strictly for man’s enjoyment, we begin to relate to our Creator as the ultimate Giver, and we begin to come to an understanding of the Love that HASHEM showers upon everyone of his creations.
Click here for Part Two
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