Is gratitude more significant than duty?

Why does the media devote so much attention to violence and bad news; and so little attention to good deeds and good news? Why are politicians so sleazy and corrupt?

Since 90% of the seven billion people in the world today live better than 95% of the people in previous centuries ever did; why are there so many more unhappy, discouraged and cynical people in our generation?

Religions teach us that we should count our blessings. Politicians and the news media teach us to count every single thing that is wrong; everywhere in the world. How can people keep their optimism, sanity and balance in our media driven democracy? The Jewish answer is to say a hundred blessings every day.

Rabbi Meir taught: Chayav adam l’varekh meah berakhot bekhol yom. Everyone should recite 100 blessings every day. (Menachot 43b). Since Judaism is an action oriented religion it is not surprising that parallel passages in Tosefta Berakhot 6:24 and Yerushalmi Berakhot 9:5, 14d, speak of 100 mitzvot, not berakhot.

Mitzvot lead to Tikun — improvements within our own community and the greater society. But even as society improves, so too do our future expectations; and many people become more dissatisfied and discouraged with our present reality.

Thus the gratitude gained by counting blessings may be even more important for one’s soul, than simply doing more mitzvot.

A person who can do a hundred mitzvot a day is a very good Jew (and perhaps a little compulsive). A person who can sincerely voice a hundred blessings a day should feel he or she is truly blessed (and hopefully less stressed). Thus gratitude may be more significant than duty.

The best way of influencing people to think positively about their lives is to teach them the importance of saying blessings for the many things they experience, both in their ordinary daily and weekly life, and at occasional extraordinary times.

It is a mitzvah to say blessings at every meal over food and drink. Every morning when we awake it is a mitzvah to say several blessings because various parts of our mind and body still work.

During daily prayer there are 18 blessings, and there are blessings for the weekly celebration of the Sabbath. Their are also many blessings to say for special occasions.

Our sages urged us to thank God for as many blessings as we can, since the more blessings you can say, the more blessed you are.

Among the special occasion blessings there is a blessing for seeing a non-Jewish sage and another one for seeing a Jewish sage.

Their is a blessing for hearing good news and another one for hearing bad news in accordance with Rabbi Huna’s view that we need both joy and suffering in order to experience the ‘very good’ of the sixth day of creation.

Here are a few examples of blessings for special occasions:
On beholding fragrant trees: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, creator of fragrant trees.

On seeing trees in blossom: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, whose world lacks nothing we need, who has fashioned goodly creatures and lovely trees that enchant the heart.

On seeing an unusual looking person: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, who makes every person unique.

On seeing evidence of charitable efforts: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who clothes the naked.

On seeing people who overcome adversity: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who gives strength to the weary.

This last one is one of my favorites because it sanctifies the Divine value of plural opinions and human variety. According to the Talmud (Berakhot 58a) when you see a large number of diverse people you should say:

Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, the Sage of enigmas, for just as no one person’s opinion is just like that of another, so are their faces different from one another.

The best way to preserve your sanity and balance in today’s world is to remember to count your blessings every day.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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