By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
I’ve been having a rough week; my job has been making extra demands, the refrigerator is making strange noises, and each of my teens has come to me with a new and expensive gadget they cannot live without. The High Holidays begin in less than two weeks and that is typically a full month of non-stop frenzy. People say to count your blessings, but what does that even mean?
The Torah assures us that if we keep the commandments, God will bless us. Though it is reassuring that we will be rewarded for our efforts, the Torah uses a strange double language to make this point:
“All these blessings shall come upon you and take effect” (Deuteronomy 28:2, The Israel Bible p. 505)
The verse seems to be redundant. If the blessings come upon you, why does the Torah also say that they will take effect?
FIND OUT WHY THE TORAH USES THIS DOUBLE LANGUAGE
I woke up this morning well before dawn, two hours before I had to help my son get ready for school. Realizing that my worries would not let me fall back asleep, I went down to the kitchen and made my coffee, a ritual that helps me ease into my day. I added milk and began to sip my coffee when a voice stopped me.
“Aren’t you going to pour me a cup?”
I looked up and there I was, a duplicate of me, watching me from the pantry. Stranger things have happened to me so I wasn’t entirely shocked or even surprised. I poured another cup, fixing it just like I knew I liked it. He took a sip and smiled.
“Let’s take it outside,” he said. I followed him out to the deck and we sipped our coffee, listening to the birds chatter about the upcoming sunrise.
“Are we having a rough day?” he asked. “You can tell me about it.”
So I did, complaining about my job, my demanding kids, and my house.
“Thank God,” he said. I shrugged. The expression is a religious cliche meaning nothing. “Really. You should thank God for these problems. Thank God that you have children and they are healthy. Thank God you have a job and a house. And while you’re at it, you can thank God for this wonderful cup of coffee.”
He took a sip and smiled as if to emphasize the point.
“It isn’t about having more,” he explained. “You have to realize that even though you work hard, everything, every moment of the day, is a gift from God. If you grab it, well, you have it. But if you don’t, the gift is wasted. If you acknowledge that what you have is a gift from God then it becomes a gift. Everything becomes a gift. Even the difficulties come with a built-in blessing.”
The door slammed open and my 15-year-old boy stumbled out, sleepy-eyed and barely awake.
“Dad, I am going on a hike to the Kinneret with my friends,” he said. “I need to borrow a pair of socks. And can I have fifty shekels for snacks?”
I was about to snap at him but suddenly I realized the enormity of the blessing he was offering me. I turned to thank my alternate self but he wasn’t there. “A dream,” I thought. And then I saw the second cup of coffee, half full, sitting on the porch railing.
The Torah teaches us that it is possible to be surrounded by blessings and not realize it. There are people who are blessed with health, wealth, and great fortune, but their lives are filled with misery. They have blessings, but they have not “taken effect”.
We need more than just physical or spiritual blessings. It is not enough to see miracles or be given the best fortune. We must bring these blessings into our lives and into our souls. We must recognize that everything comes from God and that, in the grand scheme of things, it is all for the best. Only when we acknowledge the blessings in our lives will we be truly blessed.