Expecting Appreciation

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated PG

Appreciation is key to any relationship. It is the way that you tell the other person: “I don’t take you – or what you do for me – for granted.” It is what follows when you realize that someone has unnecessarily extended themselves for you. That, in turn, will lead you to consider why they have done so, which will encourage you to reflect on the nature of the bond that you share.

If appreciation is a key, expectation is the lock. Expectation is when we have frozen a relationship in place; when we are unmoved by the other’s gestures because we expect them. We believe we are entitled to them. We believe that what we receive from the other is simply part of the landscape of our relationship, to be taken for granted.

Our relationship with our parents is a good example.

As children, we don’t know enough about relationships or the importance of showing appreciation. From the moment that we are born our parents provide for us, and we expect that this is simply the way of things. As the sun rises in the sky each day, so too do our parents ensure that their children are clothed and fed. So we grow up with a set of expectations of our parents, and it is not until we are older – and perhaps become parents ourselves – that we begin to understand that what parents give their children is not automatic; that their gratuitous gifts stem from the deepest love. This, of course, is one the primary rationales behind the commandment of honoring our father and mother. It trains us, from a very young age, to not take such gifts for granted.

Sometimes expectations seem to be justified. For example, if I am sitting in a restaurant, I can expect to receive good service (or such as can be expected from the particular establishment). I can expect the meal to be as represented, and expect it to be served within a reasonable time. Why can I expect these things? Because I am paying for it. The food is not being provided as a gratuitous gesture on the part of the restaurant’s management – it is a quid-pro-quo relationship. You give me, I give you. And yet even then, the Talmud quotes the popular adage: For the wine provided by the host, thanks are yet due to the server” (i.e. tip your waiter!). See Bava Kama, 92b.

So, if you have earned something, you have paid for something, you will generally feel more justified in expecting your earnings or the item for which you have paid, and might feel less inclined to show appreciation for what you see as rightfully yours. And we tend to prefer that, to owning our fate, rather than being in someone’s debt or being beholden to another. As the Talmud states: “A man prefers one measure of his own produce to nine measures of another’s.” See Bava Metzia, 38a.

Ah, but here’s the rub: what if the very tools that that we employ to build something are themselves gifts? What if the very environment that permits us to grow was provided to us out of someone else’s sense of love? If parents give their child a model airplane kit, should the child not thank his parents for the completed airplane – even though he built it himself? In these cases, it is unfortunately far too easy to get carried away with our own achievements, and to neglect to show the proper appreciation to those who have enabled those accomplishments.

This is no less true in our romantic and erotic relationships – and to the contrary. We frequently enter into relationships with so many expectations as to how the relationship ought to be, how it ought to progress. We (understandably) are attracted to those that seem the most compatible with us, and the most likely to complement our august selves. At the first sign of friction, however, we are irritated: “Why are you not more like this?” Or, “this doesn’t feel good to me, and I expect differently of you.”

But then we learn that enduring relationships require work. They demand that we both step outside of the confines of our comfort zones for the sake of the other. That we learn to truly see each other, and that we consequently relinquish many of our expectations of each other, learning instead to appreciate the other’s efforts to connect, and to cultivate and enhance the relationship.

And even after putting in all that work, we still don’t get to rest on our laurels, pat ourselves on the back, and take the credit for the relationship. Because appreciation is owed to the other person for his or her corresponding efforts, and for providing us with the supportive environment that allows our work to bear fruit.

This week’s Parshah, Eikev, in juxtaposition with last week’s Parshah, V’Etchanan, provides an interesting lesson in appreciation.

Last week, Moses told the Israelites the following:

And it will be, when the Lord, your God, brings you to the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant, and you will eat and be satisfied.

Beware, lest you forget the Lord, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Deuteronomy, 6:10-12.

Thus, Moses warns the Israelites of the dangers of getting free stuff. It’s too easy to take it for granted, to expect that such things are our due, and to neglect to show appreciation to the one that that provided us with those gifts.

Then, in this week’s Parshah, Moses takes it a step further:

Lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein, and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases, and your heart grows haughty, and you forget the Lord, your God, Who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,…and you will say to yourself, “My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me.”…

You must remember the Lord your God, for it is He that gives you strength to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your forefathers, as it is this day.

Deuteronomy, 8:12-18.

In this passage, Moses warns of the flip side. What if it’s not free stuff? What if you work hard to build, to earn, to grow? Then, the danger is that your own efforts will overshadow the fact that your very strength, energy and acumen, as well as the fertile environment that so readily yields its rewards for your efforts, are themselves gifts.
And so, Moses reminds us, first of all, never to take for granted that which someone else goes out of their way to give you. And then, when you’ve worked hard at something, and you’re justifiably proud of your accomplishments, and you’re getting ready to settle back to enjoy the fruits of your labor – double check to see whether there may yet be someone else who is responsible for your ability to build and succeed.

In this way, we will never neglect to acknowledge and show appreciation for the many gifts that have been bestown upon us, and for those that have reached out to touch us.