Last week, thousands upon thousands of Jews descended on Washington D.C to show their support for Israel. I was blown away by the warmth and love that radiated from the event. There were Lubavitchers helping men put on tefillin and Jews wearing face paint all in the same place at the same time. It felt like a big family reunion with your strange Cousin Sammy and favorite Uncle Jack. I kept on thinking, "Wow, this is incredible."
But then I got home and checked the news. One report mentioned the crowd booing Paul Wolfowitz; another -- that 136 people were treated for heat stroke. I learned that the sound system wasn't loud enough; RFK Stadium parking was disorganized; and there wasn't enough water.
At first, I thought that these reporters were at a different rally. The one I had been at had been overwhelmingly positive with a few unforeseeable glitches. But then I realized that their reaction was an outgrowth of a more profound problem from which many of us suffer. For some reason, we simply can't enjoy a good thing when we have it.
We have lost a beautiful forest for a few unsightly trees.
Take the rally. Over 100,000 Jews came to Washington in over 90-degree heat. Just that sentence should inspire awe. But instead, what gets mentioned? That 136 people suffered heat stroke. By focusing on those 136, we have chosen to ignore the 99,864 who were kept cool by astute policemen and good Samaritans who sprayed us with hoses on our walk back to the buses. We have lost a beautiful forest for a few unsightly trees.
What should have been an inspiring event for all became a mediocre event for some.
Unfortunately, this happens all too often. Most of us have many positive things happen to us throughout the day. But 24 hours a day, the media feeds us a diet of death, mayhem and suffering. We are led to believe that the world is degenerating and closing in on an awful end. Since good news doesn't make the news, we don't notice it nor realize how often the good things are happening. Or worse, we discount the importance of the good because there is still some bad.
Worldwide, literacy is up, poverty is down, and there is more food, medicine and clothes than at any point before in history. Despite reports to the contrary, there is still clean air to breathe, and refreshing water to drink. The pleasures of life are many.
Even as I write these words, my mind rebels against them -- what about the fact that our community is besieged with so much suffering; with the war, violence and hatred that is being thrown against us. On top of that, there are people who are lonely, young people getting sick, and unfortunately young people dying.
And yet, it is precisely because we live in these times of uncertainty that we have to experience every single positive moment we encounter. True, the tragedies are real and we must address them. We must grieve our losses and protect our families. But, by recognizing and enjoying the good, we get the emotional strength to deal with the bad. It allows us to realize that there is hope and joy even in trying times. Miracles happen everyday. Couples get married; children are born and there are medical miracles that save many of us from the tragedy of premature death.
Not valuing the good is a particular problem for those individuals looking to grow. We spend a lot of time thinking about the should haves, the would haves and the could haves. There should have been more prayer at the rally; I could have given more charity; if only I would have learned more. Our motivations may be pure, but the results are just as disastrous. By constantly focusing on what needs improvement rather than appreciating what we have accomplished, we lose the strength to keep improving.
The Torah understands the dangers of such an approach. It has given us ways to become aware of the good we have. When we wake up, we say "Modeh Ani L'fanecha -- Thankful am I before you, living and eternal King, that you have returned my soul within me with compassion, abundant is Your faithfulness" and appreciate the gift of life. We continue with blessings for our shoes, clothing and even the ground on which we stand. Throughout the day, we remind ourselves of the little gifts of joy that the Almighty has given us. We thank Him for the joys of a sweet apple, the majesty of thunder, or even the fragrance of a fruit tree. No event is too small or insignificant to be appreciated.
And when we accomplish something spiritually, we celebrate that too. After we complete a unit of study of Torah, we make a siyum, a celebration, for all the good we have done -- because even if we are not perfect, there is still so much to be happy about.
So let's experience the good that is happening right now. As it says in Psalms "Zeh haYom asah Hashem, nagila v'nismacha vo" -- This is the day that God made, Rejoice and be happy in it.