There once lived two sisters. One was good and kind-hearted, but sadly she was also rather unsightly. The other was a beauty to behold, but unfortunately she was not a nice person at all.

Both girls were getting on in years and their father was struggling to find them suitable husbands, as was the custom in days bygone.

One day, a shadchan (matchmaker) came up with a wonderful plan. He had two young men who would be perfect matches for each daughter. One was blind, and the other was deaf. The blind man would marry the unattractive girl and he would never be disappointed by her unsightly appearance. And the deaf man would marry the beautiful shrew who was pleasing to look at, and would never hear her vicious comments. The matchmaker claimed it was bashert—marriages made in heaven.

Indeed, the two couples married, and things seemed to be working out well.

Until one day, a famous doctor came to town and promised that he could cure any illness. He offered to operate on the two men and cure them of their respective handicaps. Indeed, he performed surgeries on both men and was successful. The blind man could now see, and the deaf man could hear.

And then the trouble began!

The blind man saw his wife’s face for the very first time and wanted to cry. And the deaf man could now hear his wife’s verbal abuse. Her beauty was no compensation for her belligerence.

Both men were so upset by their new circumstances that they refused to pay the doctor for his services. They argued that all he brought them was grief.

The doctor summoned them both to the rabbi’s chambers for a din Torah, a court case, demanding payment for his services. The rabbi listened to both the doctor’s and the patients’ arguments. And after careful consideration, the wise rabbi delivered his ruling.

“You, Doctor, have done these gentlemen a disservice. Your patients are clearly dissatisfied with your work. Therefore, the correct thing to do is to operate on these men again and reverse their respective procedures. I hereby order you to reverse the surgeries and to make this man blind again and this man deaf again.”

“Oh, no!” shouted the patients. “I don’t want to be blind again,” argued the one. “I don’t want to be deaf again,” shouted the other.

“Aha,” said the rabbi. “So, you are actually very pleased with the procedures that gave you your sight and your hearing. In that case, I order you to pay the good doctor for his excellent services.”

A wise ruling indeed.

In the portion of Ki Tavo we read about the mitzvah of Bikkurim. The farmers in Israel would bring their first fruits and present them to the Kohen in Jerusalem in an elaborate expression of gratitude to G‑d for the land and its produce.

Bikkurim is the mitzvah of appreciation—to be grateful and to express that gratitude in tangible terms.

Do we truly appreciate what we have? How many of us give a deep krechtz (“sigh”) as we yearn for the so-called “good old days”? It’s OK to be nostalgic now and then. Aren’t we all? But it’s another thing to think that life then was better than it is now. Was it, really? Guess what? The “good old days” were not as good as we sometimes imagine them to be. There was poverty, deprivation, and ignorance, and life was generally much harder.

Spiritually speaking, many argue that there is more Torah being studied today than ever before in Jewish history. And the number of yeshivas, seminaries, day schools, and institutions of higher learning around the Jewish world is staggering. And thank G‑d for that!

Materially speaking, too, we are doing much better. One example. Here in South Africa, we have seen a recent influx of Jewish tourists from around the world. A few weeks ago in our shul we had visitors from New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Israel. There is a wide selection of kosher safari operators. Our people are traveling and touring the world in record numbers. Thank G‑d, Kosher-observant people are successful and can afford these luxury tours.

Was this even imaginable a generation ago?

What was that you were saying about the “good old days”?

Let the message of the first fruits and gratitude for what we have ring out loud and clear. Thank you, G‑d, for all our blessings.