Today is April 26, 2017 -
Dear Congregants and Friends ~
Following the death of my Father on February 15, 2017, the past 2 weeks have, understandably, been filled for my family and me with feelings of deep loss and sadness. While he was blessed with myriad skills, talents, and interests, ranging from his love of ballet and music (especially jazz), to his deep appreciation for science and mathematics—he was an engineer—to his love for family, God, and Judaism, what I most appreciated about my Dad was that he was, like so many of our parents, basically a good person, a Tzaddik, who took to heart and lived out the best of the teachings, values, and ideals of the Jewish Tradition of the great country in which we live. I thus want to dedicate my column this month to you, to my Dad.
In doing so, I want to focus this month on another strong feeling that I have been experiencing since my Father’s death, that feeling being hakrat hatov (“acknowledging the good”) or “gratitude”, and the importance of this midah, or trait, in my life and in Judaism. For what and to whom am I feeling this deep gratitude? For the outpouring of love, caring, and support given to me by God, by the members of this holy synagogue community, and by members of my family and other friends and colleagues.
While I intend to respond in a more formal way, over the next several weeks, to each of your many cards, calls, texts, donations, and words of support, I want to take this opportunity to express my family’s and my deepest thanks and appreciation for opening your hearts to us at this challenging and vulnerable time.
That feeling and expressing gratitude is a seminal Jewish value, enabling one to lead a more joyful and meaningful spiritual life, is reflected in the following narrative from the Book of bereishit (Genesis) in the Torah. Having been tricked by his father-in-law, Laban, to marry Laban’s elder daughter, Leah, instead of the younger daughter, Rachel, whom he loved, Jacob showers almost all of his love and attention on his beloved Rachel, leaving Leah feeling ignored and unloved.
Feeling great compassion for her, God blesses Leah with three beautiful and healthy children, hoping that the children will buoy her spirits and bring more joy and love to her life. Unable to appreciate the intrinsic value of the 3 gifts she has been given, Leah sees the children only as a possible way to gain more of Jacob’s love and attention, with the names that she gives each of the three children reflecting this hope on her part. Unfortunately, Jacob continues to show little interest in her, however, and she remains depressed, unable to appreciate the blessings that she has been given.
Fortunately, God does not give up easily, and thus blesses Leah with a fourth child. Leah is finally able, with this 4th child, to appreciate the gift that she has been given and to thus feel gratitude, exclaiming, “[F]or this child, let me gratefully praise Adonai”, and she accordingly names the child Yehudah, or “Judah”, which name means “thanks” or “grateful”.
Not coincidentally, the very word which describes us as a People, “Jewish”, comes from the name given by Leah to her 4th child, “Judah”. In the Hebrew, this connection becomes even more clear, with the Hebrew word for “Jewish” being Yehudi (male).
Thus, feeling and expressing gratitude to God and to others is imprinted in the DNA of the Jewish People! To help us remain aware of the importance of this midah, or “attribute”, in our Tradition, the first words that we are called upon to say, upon opening our eyes in the morning, is the following prayer: “[G]iving thanks I come before you, Adonai, who restores my soul to me with compassion, your faith is abundant.” In the same way, our sacred texts urge us to try to say 100 blessings each day, expressing our thanks and gratitude to God and to others.
I close with several quotes from the Jewish and other traditions, religious and secular, emphasizing the crucial role played by gratitude in leading a joyful and meaningful life:
• “Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” [Kahlil Gibran, Christian poet]
• “Giving thanks for abundance is sweeter than the abundance itself.” [Rumi, 13th century Sufi poet]
• “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” [Cicero, Roman leader]
• “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed in your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” [Ralph Waldo Emerson]
• “When a person does not have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.” [Elie Wiesel]
• “This is the day the Lord has made. Be glad and rejoice in it!” [Psalm 118].
Feeling and Sending Deep Gratitude and Appreciation!
Rabbi Howard Mandell