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In Memory of Mr. Stanley Cohen OBM

Friday, 25 May, 2018 - 3:16 pm

We humans have very short memories. Or better yet, selective memories. We remember what we want to  and conveniently forget other things. For example, we forget what our parents have done for us yesterday if they did not do the same for us today. Yesterday’s gifts are old news. Or as the saying goes “what have you done for me today”. This weakness is as old as mankind. Being ungrateful and not appreciating the blessings we have is something humans have grappled with for thousands of years.

Adam was ungrateful for the wife G-d had given him and instead focused on the problems she brought to his life. The Jews in the desert never ran out of things to complain about instead of appreciating daily miracles that G-d had performed for them. And, I wonder how many of us really count all the blessings we have rather than seeing the glass half empty.

In the book of numbers, the one we are reading these weeks, we learn about the Jews in the desert who complained about practically everything. Their food was not good enough, their drink was not exactly to their liking, they even complained about the miraculous Manna that fell from heaven every morning. Its appearance was not what they expected. Or the fact that they were now a free people who were on a mission from G-d to change the world was also something to complain about. They suddenly longed to go back to Egypt. In their words “we remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free” I guess the Egyptian chefs knew how to prepare a good trout or some really good grilled sea bass. I don’t know about the “for free” part. This is what the Jews complained about. Go figure. I don’t remember learning that the manna had to be bought in stores for a price, It was right there at their door post or just outside the camp, all they had to do was go pick it up every morning. And mind you, it had a miraculous nature about it, it had the taste of anything one wished. So for example if someone wanted their Manna to taste like steak, French fries or sushi, all they had to do was think of that food and there it was, the manna suddenly took on the taste of that desired food. But that was not good enough because It did not look like steak, French fries or sushi.

The truth is, nothing has changed. We in America have everything or close to it. We live such comfortable lives and yet study after study shows that Americans are increasingly unhappier than the generations of the past. We have the best schools, the best medical treatment, the best cars, most comfortable homes, entertainment 24 hours a day on TV, Movies and so on, and yet, everyone is complaining. It’s never good enough. What has G-d done for me today we ask… and if you remind the person that just that morning he/she drove to work in a nice car after eating a good breakfast, they tell you… but that was 4 hours ago.

We are often just simply ungrateful. We forget that relatively speaking, we should be in the synagogue 10 times a day (not three) thanking G-d for the incredible flow of goodness and wealth that comes our way. We're healthy, our children are healthy; we have more than our parents and grandparents ever had by far. But we look for this moment's excitement…. for something new. Yesterday’s blessings are alte zachen (old merchandise).

This then is the call of the hour. Thank G-d for everything you have. If you need help remembering it all then here is a simple piece of advice. Sit down with a pen and paper , contrast your life with that of your parents. I am sure that after three lines you will be looking for a prayer book to offer thanks to G-d. People usually say that we should see the cup as half full rather than half empty. I say, there is no need for that in our case; our cups are for the most part completely full all the time.  We just refuse to see it. We are like the Jews in the desert. We have almost everything or close to it, but we look to Egypt's fish and see that one thing we do not have.

I want to call your attention to a very special person whose Yahrtzeit we observed this week. My dear friend , Mr. Stanley Cohen, of blessed memory. Stanley was special in more than one way. I think it’s fair to say that he was the exact opposite of a complainer. He had much to be thankful for but he also had much to complain about. Those who remember him know how he suffered the last few years of his life. I visited with him almost every day to pray with him when he was no longer able to don Tefillin on his own. I will always cherish those moments. I never once heard him complain… Never. He always said that Hashem is good to him. He always remembered all the blessings that he and his family enjoyed,his illness was not going to make him forget that. This is one of the very important lessons I learned from Stanley. Be grateful. Remember what Hashem gave you and continues to give you. This is a lost art. As his Yahrtzeit always falls around the Torah portions when we read about the complainers, we have a perfect contrast in Stanley Cohen: a man who never complained. A man who knew where he came from. A man whom saw what he was given and never lost sight of that. A man whom loved Hashem and expressed that love in verbal gratitude every single day of his life.

May his memory be a blessing to all of us.
Shabbat Shalom


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