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    The Jewish People are known as Yehudim. The word Yehudim means ‘people who give thanks.’ Indeed, this is one of the fundamentals of our Jewish identity: namely that we are people who express thanks and give praise constantly to Hashem for all the good He bestows upon us.

    As we prepare for Pesach, this is one of the most prominent lessons that we should bring with us into this festival and retain for the entire year, for we are taught Hashem took us out from Egypt and chose us as a Nation so that we would relate His praises. Indeed, our very redemption came in the merit of prayer, as it states “Vayitzaku el Hashem – And we cried out to Hashem.” And the very essence of Jewish identity is the power of our voice, as it states “Hakol kol Yaakov – The voice is the voice of Yaakov.”

    The art of praise is a sophisticated one. On Shabbos and YomTov, we add a special prayer, “Nishmas kol chai tevareich es Shimcha – The soul of every person blesses Your Name, Hashem.” We add this beautiful prayer specifically on Shabbos and YomTov since we have an extra neshama then. This emphasizes that our prayer emanates not simply from our mouths but rather from the very depths of our souls. As such, it behooves each one of us to take a reality check and ensure that our prayers are said meaningfully and sincerely with concentration, and not merely with robot-like lip service. The Chovos Halevovos teaches us that prayer without thought is like a body without a soul and peel without the fruit.

    On the subject of praise to Hashem, Rav Shach Zt”l, Zy”a, teaches an important concept. A young couple was blessed with a daughter shortly after their marriage. Since this new father husband was in kollel and living on an austere budget, he asked Rav Shach whether it was necessary to make a Kiddush in celebration of his daughter’s birth. Rav Shach asked him, ‘If you needed to wait eight years and then had your daughter, would you make a Kiddush?’ The young man unhesitatingly answered, ‘Of course! That would be a real simcha.’ Rav Shach countered, ‘Then isn’t it an even bigger simcha that you didn’t have to wait the eight years?’

    This story illustrates a very great lesson. We need to thank Hashem not just for what we have, but also for that which He has spared us. When we go through a Pesach and don’t need to worry about blood libels, when we can go out shopping for Passover items without worry of being spotted by spies of a dreaded Inquisition or, if we sat by the Seder table with all our family members in good health, with marital harmony and sufficient finances to afford a costly Pesach, we need to focus on how extra thankful we must be for all the possible hardships from which Hashem has spared us. When our children are all sitting around the Seder stable and have not strayed from the ways of our ancestors, our hearts should be overflowing with appreciation to the Almighty. So let’s take this lasting lesson away with us: Be thankful and show appreciation frequently and devoutly in all our prayers for all of Hashem’s blessings to us.

    As we know, many people are suffering financially in these turbulent economic times. Mutual funds are disastrous, stock portfolios are plummeting, bank dividends are almost non-existent and the job market is very scant indeed. The Gemora tells us in Masechtas Brachos [35a] that there is a contradiction between two verses. On the one hand it says, “Hashem la-aretz u’melo’ah – To Hashem is the world and its fullness.” Yet another verse says, “V’ha-aretz nosan lifnei adam – The earth was given to mankind.” Which one is it? Is the world the property of G-d or was it handed over to us? The Gemora answers, “Kan lifnei habracha, kan l’achar habracha – Before we make the blessing, the world still belongs to Hashem, after the blessing it becomes ours.”

    Thus, we are taught that one whoever eats or drinks without a blessing is stealing from Hashem and, furthermore, a home that doesn’t practice blessings before eating is essentially a den of thieves. If one is experiencing financial problems, this is an area to check out for it is logical that Hashem might not shower a person with fiscal blessings if he turns around and steals from Hashem. Once again we see the importance of beefing-up our attention to the important practice of praising and thanking Hashem at all times.

    In the merit of our showing proper appreciation to Hashem, may He bless us all with good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.