Not-So-Great Expectations

Most people, including myself, expect everything to go our way, and become upset
when they don't. All the years I've been a rav, nobody has ever come to me and said,
"Rabbi, I got up this morning and I feel fine, my wife and kids are fine… How
come?" Nobody ever asked me why they should deserve the good things that they have.
On the contrary, for the smallest disappointment, the merest adversity, we cry out,
"Why me?" We have the attitude that we deserve 100%, and if we don't get it, we
have a right to complain.

But the exact opposite is true. The Midrash says: "Why should a living man complain?"
If a person is alive, even if he has only the minimum, he has no reason to complain.
Life itself is a gift, and it comes with no guarantees.

The Sages instituted a festival for the Fifteenth of Av. It was one of the happiest
and most sacred days of the year in Temple times, comparable even to Yom Kippur.
The women used to go out to get married on that day, dancing in the vineyards and
looking for husbands, as they did on Yom Kippur. The Gemora gives many reasons why
this was so. One of the reasons was that that was the day the Romans gave them permission
to bury the corpses of Beitar. There had been a massacre there on the Ninth of Av,
ending Bar Kochva's rebellion, some fifty-two years after the destruction of the
Temple. The city was wiped out, and the Romans, in their cruelty, decreed that the
slain should be left to rot in the sun. It was not until at least a year later that
they gave permission for burial. There was a double miracle: not only that the Romans
gave permission, but that the bodies had not decomposed. The blessing of HaTov
V'HaMaitiv
in Birkas HaMazon was inserted to commemorate this event.

Now, if I had been there, I would have made it a fast day. Beitar was the last
stronghold against the Romans; when it was lost, the last hope of re-building the
Temple was lost with it. How can it be that the little bit of good—that belated
permission to bury the dead—should be cause for a festival and a special blessing.

But that is exactly what we are supposed to learn from it—that we should be happy
for the least bit of good. That's why they put it in Birkas HaMazon. At the
end of a meal, people tend to be critical of the food. Instead of feeling grateful
that we had something to eat, we complain that it didn't meet our expectations.
It was too salty. Or it wasn't salty enough.

And that's why it was a day for shidduchim. Because if a person does not
learn to be thankful for whatever good he gets in life, married life will be very
problematic. It's easy to find fault with one's spouse; and fault-finding can only
harm a marriage.

The Gemara tells the story of a man who vowed that he would accept no benefit
from his wife until he found something good about her. After a while, he regretted
his vow, and asked one of the Sages if he could be released from it. He was told,
however, that first he had to find something good about her. The Sage dispatched
his disciples to look her over and report back. When they came back, they said that
the man was right, for they could find nothing good about her! He couldn't believe
it, so he went out to see for himself, and he said, "You know, you do have a problem
here."

Then they asked about her name. It was a very unappealing name. "That's it!"
he said. "Her name fits her beautifully!" Now that they had found something good
about her, the husband was released from his vow.

If a person gets used to expecting a lot from life, he'll never be happy; but
if he expects very little, he'll be thankful for whatever he has, and he'll be happy.
Of course, it's not easy; you have to work at it.