"Gratitude is an attitude." Whether we appreciate the blessings in our lives or take them for granted will always depend on whether we pause long enough to consider life and its blessings or we just go along our merry way oblivious to anything but the superficial.
In this week's Parsha, Ki Sovvo, we read about Bikkurim, the first fruit offerings that Jewish farmers in the holy land were commanded to bring in thanksgiving to G-d for the land and its produce. On a basic level, Bikkurim remind us never to be ungrateful for the things with which we are blessed in life.
Interestingly, the law only took effect 14 years after the Jewish people entered the promised land. It took seven years to conquer and then another seven to distribute the land to the 12 tribes of Israel. Only when that process was completed did the law of the first fruits become applicable.
Why? Surely there were quite a few tribes who were settled earlier. No doubt, some of the farmers who had received their allotted land had planted and had already seen the first fruits of their labours. Why then were they not required to show their appreciation by bringing the Bikkurim offering immediately?
The Rebbe of Lubavitch explained that in commanding this Mitzvah, the Torah uses the phrase "And you shall rejoice with all the good that Hashem your G-d has given you." In order to be able to fully experience the joy of his own blessings in life, a Jew needs to know that his brothers have been blessed as well. As long as one Jew knew that there were others who had not yet been settled in their land he could not be fully content. Since simcha, genuine joy, is a necessary component of all mitzvos, especially the mitzvah of Bikkurim, it could only be fulfilled when everyone had been satisfied. Only then can a Jew experience true simcha, a sincere and genuine joy.
Knowing that one's friends and cousins are still fighting - or even not yet enjoying their own stretch of land - somehow takes away the appetite for a party, even if we personally may have reason to rejoice. One Jew's satisfaction is not complete when he knows his brother has not yet been looked after.
There is a story from the annals of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's arrest by the Communists back in Russia in 1927. Rabbi JI Schneersohn was the heroic spiritual leader of Russian Jewry then and the Soviets sentenced him to death for his religious activities on behalf of his people. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe had a marvelous pen; he described his incarceration and the tortures he suffered at the hands of the most uncouth and sadistic warders in that notorious Russian prison.
One of the prison guards was unbelievably cruel. He claimed that when he would beat and torture a prisoner, he would derive so much pleasure watching the man suffer that whilst drinking his tea he didn't need his usual dose of sugar. Just watching the torture provided the sweetening!
Such was this vicious anti-Semite. But a Jew experiences the reverse sensation. He cannot enjoy his tea or his first fruits knowing that his brother is still unsettled. The sweetest fruits become bitter in our mouths feeling the emptiness for our brethren.
So, if you have a job, think of someone who doesn't. If you are happily married, think of those still searching for their bashert and try making a suitable introduction. It is almost Yom Tov, if you will be privileged enough to buy new outfits for the family, spare a thought for those who cannot contemplate such luxury. When you plan your festive Yom Tov meals with your family and friends, remember to invite the lonely, the widow, and the single parent too.
May Hashem bless us all with a prosperous, joyous and sweet new year.