Who is wise, and who is foolish? Who is rich, and who is poor? Who is healthy, and who is sick? Who is happy, and who is sad? Not easy questions to answer. Everything is, of course, relative. More importantly, it all depends on our perspective.

Parshat Re’eh begins with the words: “See, I give you this day a blessing and a curse.”1 The Sages understand this to mean that how we see will determine what we see. Whether your life is a blessing or a curse can depend more on your own perspective than on the hard realities on the ground.

I think of the people of the Ukraine today. Those who are still living there and those who managed to get out with one or two suitcases in which to pack up all their life’s possessions. Can we even begin to imagine the hardships they are enduring? What about our own grandparents or great-grandparents who left Eastern Europe for the shores of the New World? Many of them came with not much more than the shirts on their backs, and they had to start from scratch just to survive. In comparison, our lives are an absolute breeze. Even those of us who may be suffering financial pressures are living lives of luxury compared to them.

There is a Hebrew proverb that “the troubles of the many are half a comfort.” The idea is that although times may be tough, the fact that many others are going through similar difficulties somehow eases our pain.

It reminds me of a rather curious comment made to me once by one of my congregants who began attending shul regularly to say Kaddish after the loss of his mother.

“Rabbi, I must tell you, I am finding coming to shul very comforting.”

“That’s nice to hear,” I responded. “Is it the serenity of the synagogue, or perhaps the power of prayer that you find comforting?”

“No,” he said. “Just seeing that there are other people who have to say Kaddish too makes me feel better.”

Indeed, “the troubles of many are half a comfort.”

And another incident occurred some years ago when we were distributing jackets for underprivileged people living in the inner city without shelter or warm clothing. A generous congregant had donated several boxes of jackets and asked me to distribute them to the needy as winter was approaching. They were probably minimally damaged in one way or another, but they still could have been sold. In kindness, however, he chose to donate them to the destitute instead.

I joined forces with a number of dedicated welfare workers, and one morning we announced that the jackets would be made available on a “first come first served” basis. Hundreds of people lined up outside and filed by, one by one, to receive their jackets.

What can I say? You think we made those poor people warm by giving them the jackets? I tell you, we were the ones left with the very warm feeling of having helped bring comfort and cheer to our fellow human beings. Their big smiles and appreciation were absolutely heartwarming.

And, boy, did that encounter give us perspective. Whatever problems we may be facing, we are absolutely affluent and privileged compared to thousands of cold, often homeless people.

I conclude by sharing a few lines I found by an unknown author. You may have come across these words before, but they are worth repeating because they certainly provide perspective.

"If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world.

“If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

“If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the millions of people who will not survive this week.

“If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of starvation, you are luckier than 750 million people alive and suffering.

“If you can read this message, you are more fortunate than 3 billion people in the world who cannot read at all."

We will all be far happier and realize how much we have to be grateful for, if we know how to see the blessing, rather than the curse. By developing perspective in life, we learn how to count our blessings. Only then do we realize how truly blessed we really are, and how truly happy we can be.

“See, I give you this day a blessing…”