G’dolei Yisrael often lament that people who request that they daven on their behalf in a challenging situation, never share good news with them when they merit salvation.
Two and a half years ago, when Chani was expecting our twins, there were some serious complications, due to a condition they had called TTTS (Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome). At one point, our doctor in Columbia Hospital suggested that Chani undergo a “treatment” to alleviate the danger of their condition. However, the doctor cautioned us that the treatment contained risks, including that it might not remedy the situation. He then told us that we had to decide if we wanted to proceed with it or not.
The doctor led us to a conference room and told us that we had 15 minutes to decide. It was one of the most frightening moments of our lives. We had to make a decision that would impact the lives of our unborn twins within 15 minutes. How in the world were we to know what to do?
I immediately called our rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Schabes, who has always been there for us. But as it was the morning, he was saying shiur and his phone was off.
I made a few phone calls and got the number of a respected rosh yeshivah to seek his advice. The rosh yeshivah’s secretary took down the information and conveyed it to the rosh yeshivah while I was holding on the line. A few minutes later, she returned and replied that the rosh yeshivah wrote down Chani’s name and would daven for her; he wasn’t familiar enough with the condition or the procedure to offer any guidance.
We grew more desperate as the clock continued ticking. I then remembered that I had the number of Rabbi Dovid Cohen, a renowned gadol and halachic poseik from Flatbush.
When I called his home, his wife answered and informed me that the Rav was unavailable at that time. When I told her that it was an urgent life-and-death matter, she immediately put him on the phone.
Rabbi Cohen doesn’t know me at all. He is also extremely busy and spends hours each night fielding complicated halachic questions and giving advice and guidance. Yet he listened patiently to all the details and asked questions for clarity. When he had all the information, he replied that he doesn’t know much about the condition, but he felt that if the doctor feels that we should proceed with the treatment, that’s what we should do.
We thanked him profusely for his time and caring ear. A minute after I hung up, Rabbi Schabes called back. When I informed him about what was happening, and about Rabbi Cohen’s suggestion, he concurred and urged us to proceed.
I told Chani then that no matter what would happen, we could never blame ourselves. We had sought the doctor’s advice and that of daas Torah, and there was nothing more we could do. Now it was in the Hands of Hashem.
Baruch Hashem, the treatment was a success. However, for the duration of the pregnancy there were numerous concerns and tremendous anxiety.
When the babies were born healthy on Friday afternoon, September 9, 2017, it was a tremendous simchah. I rushed home from the hospital shortly after the birth to be with the rest of our family for Shabbos and to host the shalom zachar. My mother-in-law graciously remained in the hospital with Chani on Shabbos.
On Motzaei Shabbos, I returned to the hospital, and for the first time enjoyed holding the twins and allowing the realization of the incredible blessings we were granted to sink in.
While holding one of the twins, I decided to call Rabbi Dovid Cohen to thank him for his time and guidance a few months earlier. When the Rebbetzin answered and I told her why I was calling, she was so appreciative. After blessing the newborns and our family, she gave the phone to her husband. Rabbi Cohen admitted that he did not recall the conversation, but he, too, was deeply appreciative of my phone call and shared his excitement for us, as well as his blessing.
I have to say that it was a great feeling for me that I was able to share the good news and to convey to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Cohen their part in it.
If gratitude is so important and healthy for our emotional well-being, why is it so hard to express gratitude?
By nature, we are mostly reactive to life and the things that transpire. We are born selfish beings, with an innate sense of entitlement. To be grateful requires reflection and thought. One needs to be somewhat proactive to be thankful, and to express those feelings with those to whom he is thankful.
Life moves so quickly, and we get bogged down by daily responsibilities. If one wants to live beyond self, it entails time for reflection, a commodity that is rare in today’s day and age.
Another challenge to gratitude is that we tend to take things for granted, especially of the people who matter the most to us and are closest to us.
Former President George H.W. Bush, who just died last week, had a beautiful habit of leaving notes of gratitude wherever he went.
On one occasion, he used a classroom in a school in Rochester as a temporary makeshift office. When the teacher returned to her classroom after the president left, she found a personal handwritten thank-you note written in chalk on her chalkboard from President Bush. The school kept that board with the message on it when they switched to whiteboards a few years ago.
Little thank-you notes left conspicuously are a wonderful way to express gratitude for things or people that we often take for granted.
We are the greatest beneficiaries of being grateful, but to do so we must resist our nature to be self-absorbed and to have a sense of entitlement.
It begins by recognizing and appreciating the gifts of life!
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking for “instant inspiration” on the parshah in under minutes? Follow him on Torahanytime.com.