Parshas Noach: An Attitude of Gratitude

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At the very end of Parshas Noach we read the very interesting story of the Tower of Bavel.

Despite being only 9 pesukim long, there are several mind blowing lessons –one of which I wanted to delve into this morning. 

The Torah relates how all of humanity had one language and one common purpose, and they united to build a tower with the goal of reaching the heavens presumably to rebel against G-d.  G-d then observes what is happening, as the Torah says, “v’yared Hashem Liros es ha’ir v’es hamigdal asher banu BNEI ADAM.” Hashem descended to look at the city and tower which the sons of Adam– the sons of man– built.” Rashi comments that the phrase “sons of man” seems redundant and unnecessary.” Says Rashi, “Who else might they be the sons of? The sons of donkeys or camels? Rather the Torah emphasizes they were the sons of Adam, the sons of man, because Adam HaRishon had denied the good that G-d had bestowed upon him when, after eating from the apple, he blamed Chava, describing her as “the wife that you gave to me.” Adam HaRishon, says Rashi, was denying the goodness that G-d had bestowed upon him by blessing him with his wife. He seems to imply, if YOU, G-d, had not given me this woman as a wife, I would not have succumbed with the sin of eating the apple.

So too, says Rashi, the generation who built the tower to rebel against Hashem denied the good that G-d had done for them, by saving their ancestors from the flood. Rather than thanking Hashem for that precious gift of life, they chose to rebel against him. Thus, they were true sons of Adam– descendents of the man who famously expressed his ingratitude for G-ds immense kindness.

There is a very profound lesson here that we all ought to take to heart. Gratitude is such a vital part of what it means to be a Jew. In fact, as is well known, the first word that comes out of a Jew’s mouth every morning is meant to be the word “Modeh.” Where we thank, and acknowledge our Creator for once again, bestowing the immensely precious gift of life upon us. Additionally, we are Jews- Yehudim– which means thankers, or acknowledgers. We thank at our very essence. Thankfulness literally defines us. 

And if there is one thing that having Covid has reminded me, is that there is no shortage of things to be thankful for. Suppose that G-d forbid you had a rough week. You squandered three hours of your life watching the Broncos, as their 3-0 start deluded you into thinking this year would be any  different from the preceding five years of misery. Then you were stressed at work, a colleague aggravated you, and  you had an argument with a family member. Here you are on Shabbos morning, frankly pretty depressed. But if you are here, presumably you don’t have Covid, which means, you can likely smell. You will walk outside after this, and for kiddush, have a cholent — or perhaps granola bar– As you approach the cholent, you can’t help but notice its blissful fragrance is wafting through the autumn air. As you take a bite of the beans and meat, the smell fills your nostrils with satisfaction. Maybe it will rain later today and you will smell that powerful, beautiful, crisp scent of rain in the air. 

Some people can no longer do this. Having lost my sense of smell a week ago, eating is no longer pleasurable. I would give a decently large sum of money to have my sense of smell returned to me. But did I thank G-d a week ago when I had it? Did I bask in the awesome, underrated immense pleasure of smell? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

And for someone like me, who can feel bad for himself because he can’t smell– should I really pout and feel sad? True I can’t smell, but I can see. I can hear. I can walk. Usually when the sun sets I am inside at Mincha, unable to observe the immense beauty of the clouds in Denver as the sun sets. This week I am home. I was outside. And the stunning evening sky simply took my breath away. 

True, many people go through difficulty, and many people have exceedingly valid reasons to be down. But as Jews, it is incumbent upon us to do what we can to focus on the good and to express gratitude.

This is not only a religious duty– but an exercise that will undoubtedly make us happier and more content individuals. 

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