Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 10 February 2024 / 1 Adar Alef 5784

Birkat Hamazon: Blueprint of Jewish Destiny (Part 12)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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“Anyone who recites Birkat HaMazon is blessed through it.”

(Zohar HaKadosh to ParshatTerumah)

The fourth blessing continues: “For every single day, He did good, He does good, and He will do good for us.”

Our blessing teaches one of the fundamental lessons of life and, more importantly, the reason we have been granted life to begin with. Life must be lived to its utmost. Not, as much of the secular world understands, that physical experiences and pleasures must be maximized and that there needs to be a relentless search for “bigger” and “better” thrills. Rather, we are taught that each and every day is an unparalleled opportunity to reach higher. To become bigger than we were the day before. And to draw closer to our Father in Heaven. How does one do that? How does one utilize every single day so that it has true worth? By doing good.

There is a famous quotation, which seems to be attributed to more than one author that has become something of a cliché. But that does not stop it from being true. “Yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future, but today is a gift. That is why it is called ‘the present.’”

When the Torah describes the passing of Avraham at the age of 175, it states, “Now, these are the days of the years of Avraham’s life.” The wording raises a question. The Torah never uses words unnecessarily and could have seemingly have said, “Now these are the years of Avraham’s life,” without adding “the days of.” The Rabbis explain that the Torah’s wording teaches us that Avraham did not just live for a total of 175 years; he also lived every single one of his days.

Rabbi Meshulam Jungreis, the founder and beloved Rabbi of North Woodmere Jewish Center and Congregation Ohr Torah on the South Shore of Long Island, was fond of saying that a long life is not enough, but a good life is long enough. His selfless and indefatigable partner in all of his spiritual endeavors, and the founder of Hineni, an international powerhouse of Jewish outreach, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, added to her husband’s profound words by explaining that goodness cannot be measured by the length of our years. Goodness is not about what we amass, but by what we give. Goodness is not about having more; it is about being more. In the end, our lives are judged not by the citadels or businesses or houses or portfolios we have built, but by the lives we have touched and made better. Or, in the words of Winston Churchill, we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Rabbi Yosef Breuer (1882-1980) was the legendary spiritual leader of the esteemed Kahal Adath Jeshuran congregation in Washington Heights, New York. My wife’s grandparents, who were members of the community and very close to the Breuers, would repeat how Rabbi Breuer chose not to bless people with the timeless, classic blessing “that they should live to be 120 – ad meah v’esrim.” Rather, he would bless them that their lives should consist of “orech yamim tovim – long and good days.”

Rabbi Breuer’s blessing was particularly uplifting, because it would be extremely disheartening to live for 120 years without anything distinguishing them from anyone else. It would be sad to not be able to identify anything of theirs that left an impression on the world. Alternatively, it is a source of inspiration knowing that, even if a person is not blessed with long years in this world, they are still able to achieve so much in the short time they are here, leaving an indelible imprint. One such person was Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1934-1983). Rabbi Kaplan lived for only 48 years, and yet was a prolific author, thinker and educator. He authored and translated more than fifty books on the Torah, Jewish philosophy, Kabbalah, Jewish life, Chassidut and more. All while simultaneously being involved in Jewish outreach. He served as the spiritual mentor to countless teenagers and young adults in their journeys to a life of commitment to serving Hashem to the best of their abilities. How was Rabbi Kaplan able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time? He lived every single day of his life. As a visionary Rosh Yeshiva from the prior generation used to say, “If you don’t know what you’re living for, you haven’t lived.”

To be continued…

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