By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
I wasn’t much of a student. Ask my mother and she’ll regale you with stories about how I was smart enough but never very motivated to do the work required of me.
But for some reason, there are certain things I’ve learned throughout my childhood years that stuck. Certain things I vividly recall my teachers saying and I remember them to this very day.
It was sixth grade and our teacher was going through some tefillos during our morning classes. She asked us to scan Ashrei and tell her what the most important verse in that tefillah was. Girls kept raising their hands and guessing but she kept shaking her head.
That is, until the girl coined as the smartest in our class (she’s presently a yoetzet halachah in her community) raised her hand and confidently stated: “Posei’ach es yadecha u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon.”
(She guessed this without even an ArtScroll siddur, so you can imagine how super-smart she was.)
The teacher confirmed that she gave the correct answer and stressed the importance of having extra kavanah while reciting this particular line.
In this line, we are praising Hashem for providing sustenance for all living things on this earth. It’s in a tefillah that we say a few times a day and I’m not sure if that’s even enough for what He does for us on the daily.
At times, He might give us things we’d really not prefer receiving—I know that on a personal level—but I also find myself more thankful for the things I’ve been given that haven’t been ideal and also for the things that we wanted and asked for.
It’s interesting. That verse says that G-d “satiates all of life’s wants.” The language is awkward, and the sentiment seems inaccurate. There are plenty of things we want but don’t get. I once learned that it doesn’t mean that G-d gives everyone what we want. It means He gives us the ability to feel satiety even while having wants. And the very fact that we have wants is what is satiating. How can we feel satiated without first feeling the hunger? How can life feel full and vibrant if we don’t have goals and wants to pursue? That itself is part of the gift. Maybe this is part of why celebrities and the uber-successful often end up unstable and self-sabotaging. They’ve ostensibly achieved their life goals, gotten to the top, and then had nothing left to “want” to strive for—and it was empty and lonely up there. Humans need the “will” to live—that’s what “ratzon” means.
Maybe you can’t get the good without the bad. Will you ever fully appreciate what you have unless you know what’s possible to lose?
Do people who seemingly have so much appreciate things as much as others who struggle for those same things others acquire easily?
No one wants to go through hard times, but they’re inevitable and there’s also a silver lining to going through them—you get to appreciate what you have even more.
All the sustenance that G-d bestows on you constantly is something you’ll recognize with clarity once you understand that it’s not a given. That’s G-d being plain old good to us, which is why He deserves all that praise. If you’re able to think about all that could go wrong, you’d appreciate all this even more.
I was gifted that “Aha moment” during a very painful portion of our lives. But along with pain came my surrender to G-d. I finally understood that no one could do what He could. So I gave in and would have quiet talks, giving in to Him.
I’d tell Him that I was willing to accept our fate but that He’d have to provide us with the ability to heal and move past this pain as a family unit, collectively—leaving no one behind.
I was ready to accept what He was giving me as long as He knew He’d have to be there for us along the way. The way no person could be.
Some years have passed, and with each one I feel better and stronger than the last. My kids no longer feel uneasy about packing up for Rosh Hashanah to be with family and daven at a different shul.
They no longer find it odd having to stand with my father instead of their father, because time heals and even though things don’t get easier, we get stronger. We’re more understanding of our plight but with assuredness that we’ll come through it in the best way.
I still have questions that might remain unanswered, but sometimes blind faith will have to take the place of the reasons why this had to happen.
I’m willing to take the bad with the good because I’m human and maybe I don’t know which part is bad and which is good. Maybe it’s my lot in life to not get it all and just accept what’s given.
On the day before yontif, as I was preparing some bread for the meals, I cut myself badly with the razor I was using to score the sourdough. As the doctor was stitching up my thumb, he told me how to care for the wound—changing bandages, cleaning it, and using ointment to protect the cut. If I didn’t know how useful thumbs were before this accident, I now know—from opening jars and bottles to cutting food with a fork and knife.
Getting dressed without the use of a thumb is challenging, too. As I got used to doing things without full use of that important appendage, I realized that there was an important lesson in going without something you think you can’t be without.
Sometimes there’s more than one way to get to where you need to be. With a little creativity, and a lot of trust, detours might be necessary, but you’ll get there. Without injuring my thumb, I didn’t really appreciate it. I didn’t want to hurt it, but once I did, I can use it to enlighten myself. With all things, big and small, we don’t truly know what we have until we don’t have it. When we daven for “life” this week, part of what we ask for is what’s referenced in that powerful pasuk in Ashrei, which means “fortunate”—a life of wanting, because the wanting is what drives us to pursue goals, to appreciate our blessings, to make life matter.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.