When someone does something nice for you, it's easy to feel excited and grateful. But as time passes, that feeling of gratitude tends to fade. But why should it, really?
Over 3000 years ago the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt. God made great miracles and brought us out to freedom. This week's Torah portion asks us to think about and remember these events as if they just happened.
Besides feeling grateful and close to God when we remember this, we learn the important lesson of developing appreciation for all the good things others have done for us. Many of these past acts of kindness affect us even to this day, whether we notice or not. Learning to appreciate others will make us into happier, more sensitive people.
In our story, two friends learn about remembering and appreciating good deeds from the past.
"SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW"
"Oh wow, does this place bring back memories or what?" marveled Jill as she and her friend Sandy practically floated wide-eyed down the corridor of the Sunny-Day kindergarten.
They had been sent on an errand by the fifth grade teacher of their current school to deliver a very important package to the school secretary.
"You know Sandy, I haven't been in this building in the five years since we used to be students here," mused Jill as she glanced with wonder at the colorful murals painted on the corridor walls. Spotlessly clean but well-used toys and play equipment seemed to be tucked into every available nook and cranny.
"Yeah it is kind of strange," commented her friend. "Even though everything is new, it all seems just the same as when we used to go here. Well, anyway, we did our errand so let's get going."
But Jill didn't move. "Sandy, first we must do something very important," she said dutifully.
"What's that?" asked her friend surprised. "Well, we have to stop by and visit our old teacher, Mrs. Laster. I noticed her name on the classroom door as we walked by on the way to the office."
"Mrs. Laster? What do we have to see her for - we were supposed to give the package to the secretary, weren't we?"
Just then the recess bell rang and the girls moved to the side to let a group of chattering pre-schoolers move through the hall. Jill looked at her friend incredulously. "How can we be here and not visit Mrs. Laster? She was our first teacher. Don't you remember how nice she was to us? We loved her class."
Sandy shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, but that was years ago. It doesn't have anything to do with now."
Jill threw up her hands in amazement. "It has everything to do with now. Tell me, do you know how to read and write?"
"I hope so since I have a book report due tomorrow." answered her friend teasingly.
"Well, who taught you how?" prodded Jill.
Sandy though a moment. "It was ... Mrs. Laster, I remember our old workbook," she admitted.
"Well, isn't that enough of a reason to stop by and tell that we appreciate it?" Jill asked with a smile.
Sandy was quiet. After a moment she smiled. "You're right," nodded Sandy. "Now I'm remembering that Mrs. Laster even taught us how to tie our shoes! And I remember the time my baby tooth fell out in class. I was so scared but Mrs. Laster made me feel so good about it... We really should go to see her, shouldn't we?"
The two friends looked at each other and as one, doubled back down the hall and knocked on the door of their former teacher. "I wonder if she'll remember us," whispered Jill.
The girls stood nervously as the doorknob turned and the door slowly opened. A neatly dressed older woman looked down questioningly at the two fifth-graders for a split second, then immediately broke into a broad smile. "I remember you! You're Sandy and you're ... Jill!" Mrs. Laster exclaimed. "What a delightful surprise!"
She and her former students had a lovely chat, and the girls expressed their gratitude for all the teacher had done for them. As she walked them out, Mrs. Laster looked the girls in the eyes and warmly said, "Thank you so much for coming. When I see what lovely young ladies my former student blossomed into it makes every bit of effort worthwhile."
The girls walked out flying high, happy that they had remembered and appreciated someone who had once done so much for them.
Q. How did Jill feel when she noticed her former teacher's name on the door?
A. It made her remember her teacher and how nice she was. She felt grateful for the things the teacher had done for her and she wanted to let her teacher know.
Q. Can you remember a nice thing that somebody did for you today? How about yesterday, or last week?
Q. When we feel and express our gratitude to people who have helped us in the past, is it only for their benefit or do we gain something as well? If so, what?
A. When we teach ourselves to feel and express our appreciation of others, we begin to transform our lives. When we think about it, we start to see how much good we have received from so many people in our lives. This helps us to feel good about them, which in turn leads them to feel good about us. We begin to go about our day feeling surrounded by kindness and in turn begin to act more kindly to others as well. This is a big step toward making the world a better, more pleasant place to live.
Q. It's fairly easy to feel appreciation for the "big" things we receive. But how do we feel appreciation for the small, seemingly insignificant things, like a small chocolate bar?
A. Sometimes when we think deeply about these "little" things, we find out they are not so little. Many things that seem like nothing really are derived from huge amounts of effort. For instance, even a small chocolate bar takes the efforts of thousands of people to get to us. Chocolate doesn't grow on trees, but the cocoa beans it comes from does. People had to plant those trees, spend years caring for them, and then harvest the beans. After that the beans have to be processed in massive factories which took the efforts of hundreds if not thousands of people to build. Each machine in the factory came about only through much effort and expense as well. Afterwards, the chocolate has to be transported, sometimes from halfway across the globe to get to us by boats, trucks, and airplanes, each of which required many people to build, maintain and drive. When it gets to our local supermarket the people there store it, display it and guard it conveniently in our neighborhood until we come and buy this wonder all for a few pennies. That little chocolate bar that comes to us is actually the result of an international multimillion-dollar effort! When we start to think this way we realize that even "little things" are huge.
Q. Can you try to think of some other "simple" things in your life and how much effort was put in to them before they got to you?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Who do you think would maintain a greater appreciation of life: someone who is blessed with many good things like good health, wealth, etc., or someone who is lacking these things? Why?
A. At first glance it would be reasonable to expect that the more a person has been blessed with, the more appreciative he or she is. In fact, often the opposite is true. Often, when we lack something that others may take for granted, do we come to appreciate how valuable these things really are. Sometimes, the lacks in our lives are opportunities to develop the precious sense of appreciation for life's many gifts.
Q. Our sages teach us about special blessings to make, thanking God before and after eating and drinking, for example. What do you think is the purpose for this? How might it affect our level of awareness and appreciation?
A. When we stop and make a blessing before partaking in something we enjoy, we acknowledge God as having provided it for us. When we do this we become keenly aware of the fact that we are receiving a gift. This process, each time we repeat it, builds our sense of appreciation and gratefulness to all the good that God has given us. Furthermore, as we grow into more aware and appreciative people we come to recognize and acknowledge the people in our lives and all they have done for us. Living life in this way feels great as we come to view everything as a "blessing."
Q. What's harder to appreciate: the big things in life or the little things life? Why?
Q. What are some of the little things in life you take for granted that deserve your appreciation?