|Chazal tell us that a Jew must give Hoda'a Al HaAvar U'Bakasha Al HaAsid, be thankful for the past and daven for the future. Most people see the wisdom of Chazal in the latter half, which tells us even as we are saying thank you it is okay and even necessary to keep asking for more. However Chazal don't say things for nothing, and surely there is some deeper lesson in telling us that we need to be thankful for the past.
Life's natural cycle means we have constant ups and downs. If you think back surely you will see that although we have fond memories of the highs points we merited to enjoy, nevertheless it was the downswings that changed us and built our character. Often it takes an illness, a family disaster, or a financial crisis for us to get off the roller coaster of life and do some serious soul searching. It is these times that make us take stock and reevaluate who we are, how we lived our lives until now, and think about where we are headed.
When the storm passes life is never the same. We emerge changed for the better and carry on with life as more solid people. While the good times are wonderful respites, looking back we don't often have what to show for it other than sweet memories.
In English the word "past" has a negative connotation, and the word "Avar" in Lashon Kodesh even more so. To say "what was", the word "Haya" is used. Avar connoted a difficult passage or a difficult experience that passed over you. Maybe when Chazal tell us to give thanks for the past, they mean for appreciation for the hardships. With the word Hoda'a we are reminded to cherish and incorporate into our lives the good that came out of it. With the word Avar we are also reminded that we have no need to carry the pain because it already passed.
The next words of Chazal, "Bakasha Al HaAsid" is not only telling us what to do once a crisis passes, but also how to handle a crisis as we are struggling through it. Each evening when we retire from another battle filled day we should be thankful that as difficult and painful as our day was, it is now history and pain can be left behind. We won, as we are still standing, alive and stronger than we were before the day started, while the day itself will fade into history. And then we lift our eyes Heavenward and beg Hashem for a tomorrow that will bring an end to our suffering, despite the wonderful benefits.