americanisraelite.com/Rabbi Gerson Avtzon
March 15th, 2020 was a day that I, and my entire family was eagerly looking forward to: It was our long-awaited trip to Los Angeles. I have three siblings that live in Los Angeles and my children have been pushing me for years that we should visit our relatives on the west coast. Yet, as the rule of inertia dictates: “An object at rest tends to stay at rest” and we never went.
Earlier this year, my younger brother Levi got engaged to a girl – Adina – from Los Angeles. The prevailing orthodox custom is that the wedding takes place in the city where the bride is from (unless her family wants otherwise). Thus, we were “forced” into a west-coast trip, and we were all excited. My children were already dreaming of the Kosher restaurants we would all be eating at and the world-famous attractions that we would all be visiting.
March 10th was the holiday of Purim, the happiest day in the Jewish calendar and we celebrated in a most happy and care-free way. The next day, we started hearing reports that the coronavirus had begun to express itself in the Jewish communities in New York City. Not thinking that it would have anything to do with me, even though we had been in contact with some guests from New York over the Purim holiday, we boarded the plane to the wedding early Sunday morning. Upon arriving in LAX, it was like landing on a different planet. I was notified that the attractions in Los Angeles were all closing, the wedding hall had cancelled the affair and that restaurants were no longer allowed to have sit-in diners.
After settling by my hosts, I started feeling weak and feverish. I figured that it was just a result of the trip. When I received a 102.5 reading on the thermometer, I called a doctor in LA who reassured me that it was not the Coronavirus (it was). The wedding was a very small affair and I barely managed to fly back home on Wednesday. I was at my local doctor on Thursday morning, but testing was not available and I was told to go home and rest it out. It turned miserable very quickly. I could not eat, and could hardly leave my bed for a week. To top it all off, I “shared” the virus with my wife and to this day wonder how our children managed through that week.
As I was lying for hours on end in bed, I recalled something that I had heard from my dear friend, Rabbi Zalman Baras of blessed memory. He was battling “Yenne Machala” but never allowed himself to become bitter. In his final address to his students, he spoke about the importance of gratitude and being thankful. He then said the following powerful statement: “If – while you were asleep – you were told by G-d Almighty that you would awake the next morning with the amount of limbs, veins and arteries that you were thankful for the previous day, how many limbs would you awake with?”
We are all so blessed, yet we take most of those blessings for granted. Whether it is our health, family members, friendships, communities or jobs we seem to feel entitled to these blessings. We are always looking at what we don’t have and want more, without first showing appreciation for what we do have. It is times when we suddenly feel vulnerable, like I felt then, that makes us see the blessings that we do have daily.
We are all preparing for the upcoming high-holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many are speaking about how different things will be this year. With all the health concerns and guidelines, many congregations are trying to adjust to this reality that we find ourselves in. I would like to suggest another change for this year: Before we stand before Hashem and ask that he fulfill our desires for the coming year, we all publicly show and express our gratitude and thanks for the blessings that we have on a daily basis. I would suggest that we all write down ten things on a paper that we are thankful for and read that list aloud in front of our families, so that our children see and learn the power of giving thanks and showing gratitude. I pray that this will enable us all to be a proper vessel for the blessings that are waiting to be revealed.