As I sit here cozily enjoying the warmth of our bedroom fireplace awaiting the arrival of the blizzard, the frosted windows remind me of the tension and barriers in our lives between the haves and the have-nots. Yes, I’m warm inside today, but so many aren’t. And what do I do about it? Honestly, not a lot.
In economics class in college, the term “have and have-nots” was studied from a global perspective. Clearly America was a have and we studied the relationships and issues internationally vis-à-vis those countries with the most money, and therefore, the most power, and those with less economic resources. The analysis was strictly academic and intellectual. In my sociology class, however, there was an emphasis on cultural distinctions, and yet, the course was very pro-western world biased. The culturally rich societies of third world countries were not topics of study. This was so long ago that many of you weren’t even born so I would hope there has been some improvement in consciousness raising since that time, at least on college campuses.
As Jews we awake each morning and thank HaShem for giving us another day of life. And undoubtedly some who do so may be considered have-nots, perhaps suffering ill health, even poverty. Truthfully some of our American have-nots would be haves in other countries, the concept being very subjective. The point is to be grateful for that moment of being alive, such as it is, for another day of life. If, in fact, we are blessed to have good health, or ample resources, how much more grateful we should be, actually exuberant! Perhaps the reason we are to be mindful of the gift of life each morning is not to focus on seemingly qualitative differences like health or wealth, but rather, to inculcate joy for just the gift of each breath as our goal. If we have the mindset to be grateful for each breath, we are energized to encourage ourselves, and those around us, to be grateful for being alive no matter the circumstances. And as is only human nature, if we feel even more grateful for blessings beyond mere breaths, our ability to outpour happiness to others increases as well.
When we feel gratitude for having shelter during a blizzard, or for being able to attend Shabbat services, or for having a delicious meal, events that exceed mere existence, the pang of emotion we feel for those less fortunate is a good thing. It is like the bit of wine we remove from the Passover glass as we recall the plagues to the Egyptians, to temper our joy as we recall their sadness. We are to experience happiness, but be mindful of the suffering of others, not to create guilt, but rather, to motivate us to action, or at a minimum to be aware of others, not just ourselves. With the joy of life we are to remember that not all are so fortunate. It is on us to do something about it. That is the challenge HaShem makes to us – by daily reminding us of the gift of Creation, by energizing us with that force, we are equipped to help others feel His Love.
Sharing with others the gift of a joy-filled life is not just about giving to others, financially or with service. It is also about showing the beauty of this gift by how we live our lives. When we love others, show kindnesses even in the small things, we are imparting to others that which we feel when we awake with gratitude. Hugs and smiles count as much as dollars and hours, each having an essential role.
So the haves and the have-nots is not just a theoretical international grid. Nor is it just a sociological framework defining classes within societies, even within American society. It is an interpersonal truth that describes each of us vis-à-vis our fellow men and women to remind us of our responsibility to make the world a better place by our actions and by the way we live our lives. All of us are haves. We just need to spread the word.
An essential part of our gratitude is for having the knowledge of the truth of Messiah Yeshua, the most profoundly amazing gift we have. The truth is that if one has this, the other nots seem frivolous. Basic needs for survival are essential. But beyond that, as this new year begins, may we be more mindful of those with less, be it food, shelter, clothing, health, spiritual understanding, and do our part to bring all to have Him.