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Home » Economy, Politics, Vayikra Parshah

Vayikra: Humble Gratitude

Submitted by on March 22, 2009 – 3:47 amNo Comment | 1,362 views

The AIG Scandal

After accepting a one-hundred-and-sixty-billion dollar bailout from the United States Government, American Insurance Group distributed more than a hundred-million dollars in bonuses and retention fees to its employees; a move that infuriated the congress and the American Public.

The ire of the American public was raised primarily by the hubris of the move. AIG is afloat today due to the infusion of cash from the Federal Reserve, but these bonuses suggest that the company credits its survival to the very employees whose risk taking and faulty judgment jeopardized the company and with it the American economy in the first place. President Obama went on National Television and fairly demanded a higher degree of humility from executives who accept bailout monies.

This author does not pretend to understand the intricacies of running a multi national corporation or the machinations of political intrigue. The reasons behind these bonuses and the motivations of its critics are not the subject of this essay. What intrigues us is the public demand humble gratitude, a call that we might all, critics included, do well to heed.

Two Kinds of Blessings

Let us take a lesson from the sacrifices that our ancestors offered in the Holy Temple. Every sacrifice was accompanied by a modest libation of wine. The key distinction between the animal offering and the libation is that animals procreate naturally without human intervention whereas nature does not plant seeds, tend vines, harvest grapes, press juice and ferment wine; that is accomplished by human hand.

Indeed, there are two forms of blessings; those provided by the universe such as water and air and those we earn by the sweat of our brow and the toil of our hands such as our livelihood and our homes. These two forms of blessings are represented respectively by the animal offering and the wine libation. In their combined offering, our ancestors conveyed their gratitude for both forms of blessing.

The Combination Blessing

Further analysis yields an even deeper perspective. When you think about it you realize that not all blessings fall neatly into one of the above categories; most blessings are a combination of the two. While there are blessings that are wholly provided by G-d there is no blessing that is wholly provided by human labor. In our heart of hearts we recognize that human effort, but for the grace of G-d, cannot ensure success. In the words of King David, “If G-d does not guard the city, the guardian labors in vain.”

For example: You might accept a compliment for having baked a particularly delicious cake, yet in your heart you know that you baked this cake many times in exactly the same way and have no idea why this cake tastes so much better than all the others. Another example: As a salesperson you might accept a compliment from your boss for a particularly good month of sales. Yet you know that you made the same effort the month before and were not as successful. It was just that this month you happened to meet all the right people at all the right times. We can make all the right efforts and do all the right things, but ultimately our success depends on factors beyond our control.

When our ancestors offered a combination of animal and wine they acknowledged with humble gratitude humble gratitude - innerstreamthat every blessing is a combination of human effort and Divine blessing. Note, however, that the measure of the wine was always smaller than the size of the animal. This is because they attributed more credit to G-d for their success than they took for themselves; they knew that their success was in small part due to their effort, but in large part due to G-d.  They viewed their efforts as an integral part of their success, which is why they offered a libation of wine, but they understood that the role of their effort was merely to channel the Divine blessing.

This is a message we too can adopt. When we inherit an unexpected windfall or win a lottery we often attribute our good fortune to G-d. But when we bring home a paycheck, raise happy, healthy and well adjusted children we often take credit for it ourselves. Indeed, the latter is produced by our effort whereas the former is wholly provided by G-d. But let us keep our own efforts in perspective. Let us remember how large was the size of the animal and how small the size of the libation.

When We Judge

We are critical of AIG for crediting themselves with their success and ignoring the US government, the benefactor that saved them, yet we do the same. Our sages taught that when we see fault in others we are often looking at a mirror image of ourselves. When we judge others we are in fact judging ourselves. Growing up my mother always reminded us that seeing faults in others is easy; finding them in ourselves is the challenge. (1)

Footnotes

  1. This essay is based on commentary from Kedushat levi on this Parsha and on Likutei Sichos v. I, p. 188.
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