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Beloved Comanions - Insights on Domestic Tranquility From the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler

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Vayetze - II

Be Thankful

And she became pregnant again, and had a son; and she said, "This time I will praise the Lord." Therefore she called his name Yehudah. She then stopped having children. (Bereshis 29:35)

A man once asked his rabbi the following question. "How can a person possibly observe what our Sages say in the Talmud that a person should tank G-d for thew bad the same way he does for the good?(1) How can a person who has nothing for himself or his family to eat, no cloths to wear, and no where to live thank G-d just as a wealthy man does, whose house is full of everything, and who can have whatever he wants?"

The rabbi answered, "I also do not fully understand our Sages' words. But we have in our city a real Tzaddik, someone who suffers a great deal, has barely anything to eat, sleeps on a hard bench in the shul without a pillow, and goes barefoot. His wife and children receive support from the community charity; and nevertheless he serves G-d with happiness. He blesses G-d every day, and is always thankful and full of praise. That is the person who I think will be able to tell you how one can be just as thankful for the bad as he is for the good."

The man took the rabbi's advice and went to find this tzaddik to ask him to explain the Sages' word. To his surprise, the tzaddik answered, "you know, I also do not fully understand our Sages' words. I am not the one who can answer your questions, since it seems to me that I never had a bad day in my life; I lack nothing and G-d has been good to me always!"

(Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah, p. 266)

in reality, the tzaddik did not have a wonderfully easy life. But he was thankful for everything, and it was this positive attitude which made his life such a happy one. In marriage too, feeling gratitude will bring you great happiness.

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, "from the day that G-d created His world, no person came to thank G-d until Leah came and thanked Him, as it is written, 'this time I will thank G-d.'"(2) Rashi explains this as follows.(3) because she saw through prophecy that Yaakov would have twelve tribes from his four wives, when she gave birth to a fourth son, she gave thanks for her portion, because it was more than she deserved [if she should have had only three sons, if there would have been an equal division of children among the four wives].

(yalkut 126, Brachos 7B)

How was it possible that no one since the creation of the world had thanked G-d before Leah? What about Adam, Noach, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov? Had they never considered the idea of thanking Him? What was so special about the occasion that she felt such an urge to thank Him?

The importance of Leah having another son was that a whole additional tribe would descend from her. All of their service to G-d would be because of her, since she had brought them into the world. This meant that millions of mitzvos would be attributed to Leah, since every Jew does thousands of mitzvos during his lifetime, and every tribe has thousands of people. Leah made this accounting and was astonished by how many mitzvos she had gained by having another son.

This could explain why she had more to thank G-d for than any of the tzaddikim who had lived before her. Until her time, no parent had so many sons to continue their service to G-d. Adam only had Kayin Hevel and Shes, Noach only had Shem, Avraham only had Yitzchak, and Yitzchak only had Yaakov. Leah alone was privileged to have four sons serving G-d, many more than anyone before her. She felt that because she had been given so much more than others, her obligation to serve G-d was also greater than that of anyone else. She reasoned in the following way: "The more I have received from G-d, the more I have to thank him."

Therefore, our Sages attest to the fact that no one before Leah had thanked G-d to the degree that she thanked Him, since no one had received blessings as great as she had received.

Being thankful is one of the basic principles of the Torah. We are commanded to say at least one hundred blessing every day. (4) Why do we need so many blessings? Because each blessing is a reminder to be thankful to Him for His many kindnesses to us. G-d gives us food, health, knowledge, cloths, and many, many other things. For each thing He gives is there is a blessing by which we thank Him. The Amidah, which is basically a petition for our needs, contains blessings of praise, since if we do not appreciate what we already have, it is inappropriate for us to request anything more.

The Key to a Successful Marriage

Being grateful is also a key to a successful marriage. If one is full of gratitude to one's spouse, there is little room, for complaint. When the food is not read on time, the husband can remember how wonderful it is that his wife cooks his meals every day. One should try not to look at things negatively, but rather to look at the positive, and be happy with what you have. Our Sages say: "Who is rich? Whoever is happy with his lot."(5) To be happy with your lot means that you are thankful for what you have. Once you are thankful, you will also be happy. Think of how fortunate you are to be married and to have a loving spouse who wants to do things for your benefit, and always cares what happens to you.

Imagine how life would be without your spouse. Who would do all the things that are done for you around the house? Who would do the errands outside the house? Who would say hello to you when you come home? At present you might take all these things for granted but if you did not have them your world would be completely different. You should be thankful to your spouse for all that you are given.

Do not look for trivial shortcomings in your spouse. Rather look at the whole picture. No humane being is perfect. You can even be grateful that you spouse has these minor faults, and not major ones which would make your marriage much more difficult. If you are fortunate enough to have a spouse who fits with your general needs, you should be grateful and satisfied. Be thankful to G-d that he gave you a spouse, and realize that not everyone has one. You should also be aware that by not behaving correctly and not being thankful for what G-d has given you, it is even possible that as a result, you might find yourself alone.

Even though your spouse loves you, there is a limit to love. If you do not show appreciation and are always taking advantage of your spouse, then your souse's patience may run out. Then you will have only yourself to blame for the results. Our Sages say, "Who is wise? Whoever sees the future consequences."(6) Look ahead and act properly, and you will save yourself a tremendous amount of aggravation. You will probably blame your spouse once these serious problems arise, but the truth is that you are to blame, since you were not wise enough to control yourself to begin with.

Take time to enumerate to your self all the things that your spouse does for you during the week. Put it into writing and repeat it to yourself whenever you have time. By doing this, you will instill in yourself the gratitude that you owe your spouse. Thankfulness can be acquired through toil, even if it does not come to you naturally. With effort you can become an expert in it, and through this gratitude you can become a terrific spouse. Just as Leah was thankful for what she received, so must we all be full of gratitude for the gift of a spouse. The more we are able to internalize that gratefulness, the more we will be able to appreciate our marriage. And this thankfulness will in turn lead to the continued success of the marriage.

1. Berachos 33b
2. Bereshis 29:35
3. Rashi in Berachos 7b
4. Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 46:3
5. Avos 4:11
6. Masechta Tamid 32a

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