I woke up early this morning in the holy city of Jerusalem. Looking out the window and taking in the spectacular view of this “city of gold” brought tears to my eyes. I poured myself a cup of coffee and recited aloud the brachah of 'Shehakol Nihiyeh Bidvaro', thanking Hashem that everything is “according to His word.” What immediately came to mind was the explanation for why we recite such a broad, all-encompassing expression of gratitude for something as mundane as a cup of coffee.
At that moment, the insight of the Chofetz Chaim had great meaning and relevance for me. He offered the following parable: A man once entered a fancy restaurant and ordered a cup of tea. When the waiter subsequently presented him with a bill for five dollars, the man protested that it was an outrageous price for something that had cost only a few cents to prepare. The waiter gently explained that, in fact, the customer was paying not only for the tea but for the ambiance—the beautiful setting, expensive china, soft background music, comfortable chairs, and muted lighting.
Indeed, from this perspective, what I was feeling while enjoying my cup of coffee was gratitude to Hashem for hakol, absolutely everything—the magnificent hills of Jerusalem that surrounded me; the multitudes of Jews (ka”h) walking the streets; and just being in the land where “the eyes of Hashem are continually upon it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year,” where His providence is constant and manifest.
My father, of blessed memory, used to say that his love for the land extended even to the stop signs that spoke to him in his language. Every nuance warmed his heart because it belonged to him. I had the same feeling on the plane when the announcements were made in Hebrew. I asked the flight attendant if Israel was her ultimate destination. “Betach!” she replied. “No matter where I am on the globe, Israel is home to me.” My eyes filled with tears. Here was this young woman, clearly not “religious,” but to her, Israel was home. I felt the strong bond that connected us. She was “mine.” We had a common destiny.
As G-d’s elect people, no matter where we live we face the Holy City when we pray and remember Jerusalem at the height of our joy by breaking a glass at weddings. “Im eshkacheich Yerushalayim”—we never forget our home. In my early-morning reverie, cup of coffee in hand, I recalled two incidents, both of which occurred during my very first trip to Israel some 40 years ago. I was flying in a plane filled with secular Jews from all across America who, like me, had never been to Israel before.
As we descended and land came into view,there was an explosion of “Heiveinu shalom aleichem!” Without exaggeration, when I looked around, there wasn’t a dry eye in the airplane. Our son-in-law, Rabbi Katz, who hadn’t been to Eretz Yisrael in 22 years and was joining us on this trip for a simchah, reacted in a similar way. Throughout our stay he was enchanted by everything he saw. It was like taking a trip with a young child who notices everything that jaded adults have come to take for granted.
My second recollection was of walking into the gift shop of a very exclusive Israeli hotel in search of souvenirs to take back home. It was shortly after the Yom Kippur War. The proprietor was a lovely woman, and I struck up a conversation, complimenting her on her beautiful store. I guess she sensed the feeling of connection I had with her and shared with me that she was going out of business. Considering the upscale surroundings, I was surprised and asked her if it hadn’t turned out to be a successful venture. “No, that’s not it,” she replied. The location was perfect and business had been very good.
At that point she became openly emotional and could barely get the words out of her mouth. Amidst heartrending sobs she related that her only son, a darling 20-year-old, had just been killed in the war. “What point is there in selling tchatchkes when my son is gone and in the grave?” We hugged and cried together. To me, she represented the great sacrifice that many families have demonstrated to keep the people of Israel safe. Whenever I see a young soldier with his entire promising life ahead of him, I have an overwhelming urge to put him in my suitcase and take him to a safe place.
Since realistically that is not an option, I utter a prayer to G-d for his safety, and for that of everyone who serves to keep this country safe. Well, my cup of coffee is now cold and it’s time for a refill. The message I want to share is that even a simple hot beverage enjoyed mindfully can transport us to a state of consciousness in which we can thank Hashem for everything, not the least of which is life itself and the opportunity to wake up to a new day with all its myriad possibilities for serving Hashem.
Additionally, and of equal importance, reciting the 'Shehakol' blessing encourages us to be aware, moment to moment, of all the many blessings with which the Master of the world surrounds us in His infinite love.