Gratitude in Hard Times


See if you notice the pattern in this week’s parsha: 

At the start of Beshalach the Israelites ask God, “is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you took us to the desert to die?” [Exodus 14:11]. Then come the miracles [Ex. 14:26-31], at the Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds), which surpassed even the miracles in Egypt. Soon, the people long for Egypt and complain that God took them out only to kill them in the desert [Ex. 16:3]. God causes mon (manna) and quail meat to rain from the heavens. The people collect mon on Shabbos, against God’s will. God asks how long the people will refuse to keep His mitzvot. A container of mon is set aside as a reminder for future generations that God has many messengers through which He brings sustenance to those who fear Him [Ex. 16:28-36, Rashi on 16:33]. At their next stop, the people ask Moshe why he is trying to kill them through thirst, and they wonder if God is in their midst. God commands Moshe to hit a rock with the same staff with which he struck the sea. The people’s thirst is quenched by the water that flows from the rock [Ex. 17:1-7]. Then Amalek attacks. The people ultimately turn to God and win the war [Ex. 17:8-13, Rashi on 17:11]. 

This is the pattern: The Jews have a hard time and complain. God hears and helps. They cry again. He helps again. Every step of the way they wonder if God is there. This happens in Egypt, at the sea, and repeatedly in the desert regarding bread, meat and water. Then comes Amalek.

While all of the examples are cases of the Jewish People asking for something and then God providing it, Amalek seems to be an exception. Rashi explains the Amalek exception through the following (modernized) example: A father carries his son on his shoulders. When the son is thirsty the father hands the boy a drink. When hungry, the father gives him a hamburger. When hot, he’s handed a hat. The father carries the boy, and the boys asks a passing man, “Have you seen my father?” The father hears this and puts his son down. The kid runs around, scrapes his knees, and gets bitten by a dog. Then he runs back into his father’s embrace, crying “Abba, Abba.” This was the story with the Israelites. God carries them out of Egypt “on eagle’s wings.” He provides everything for them, but they did not see that God was there helping them. So God stepped away, letting Amalek (representing the challenges of the world) confront them, and then the Israelites remembered God, running back to Him after a wake-up call.

God helps each of us through our individual exiles. We all go through our own Mitzrayim (meaning our own difficult, narrow situations). The miracles continue and flow, yet we sometimes remain oblivious. We wonder where God is. Just as the Jews who left Egypt had trouble trusting God, we do too. This pattern that the Jews went through after leaving Egypt continues today. When we fail on an individual and communal level to appreciate God, then He reminds us through the other option. Like the child in Rashi’s story, after we get hurt we remember that we have no one to turn to but our Father in Heaven. 

Much has been written about the importance of gratitude and how it helps with our happiness and health. The first word we say every morning to God is thanks (in Modeh Ani, the gratitude prayer for waking up). In our daily prayers we repeatedly thank God for His kindness. It is the only part of the Amidah prayer that the shliach tzibur (the leader of the prayers) says that we must repeat along with him because every individual must personally express gratitude to God.

As I write this, I think of my father, whose third yahrtzeit recently passed. Judaism was the most important part of his life. In his time, he experienced many ups and downs, and many miracles from God, and was ever grateful. It is he who first suggested I submit a Torah thought to this paper, for which I am grateful.

May we each be inspired to recognize and appreciate the kindness that God provides for us daily. 

Rabbi Neil Fleischmann is a teacher and guidance counselor at the Frisch School.

Candlelighting, Readings:

Shabbat Candles: 5:02 p.m.

Torah: Exodus 13:17-17:16

Haftarah: Judges 4:4-5:31

Havdalah: 6:04 p.m.