Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I remember when my eldest child(now 11) first learned to say the words, “Thank you.” At first, I was happy that he was beginning to learn some manners, but then I realized that perhaps there was more to the feeling than just polite protocol. It occurred to me, in fact, that a sense of gratitude was one of the most important things that my wife and I wanted to pass on to our son.
I often use the phrase, “We must make space for gratitude in our lives.” It sounds like a strange way of stating my case. Shouldn’t being thankful and expressing gratitude come naturally to us? Isn’t it just a regular part of who we are as we grow up from an early age?
The truth is, for many of us, that it’s not always so easy to stop and give thanks. How often do we stop and really think about the deeper meaning of the abundance of blessing that may be in our lives? Thanking can be a difficult and complex process when we are not always aware of the things for which we should be thankful. To be able to have the consciousness to be able to thank, we have to be able to understand clearly what is actually happening around us. In our frenetic lives and complex modern existence, it is often difficult to be able to stop and take in the surrounding environment.
I know you may be thinking this is what a rabbi is supposed to be telling me. But put that thought aside for a minute and think about some of the blessings that surround us every day – the functioning of our bodies, the beauty of the rainbow, the smell of the changing season, the sound of a baby’s cry, the smile of a child, the love of your partner, the potential to learn, and those meaningful relationships with family and friends.
I’m not saying that we live in a world with blessing alone. In fact, we all know that we’re living through one of the more complicated and challenging times in our history. Besides the obvious concerns of terrorism and natural disaster, there are so many of us who feel insecure, frightened and replete with struggle. And that is why I say, we have to literally “make the space” for gratitude, so that we do not let ourselves get caught up in negativity only. We have to move to balance the scales towards acknowledging blessing, even in the midst of our pain so we don’t get caught up in a cycle of confusion, busyness, cynicism and more pain.
This is truly difficult spiritual work. It is precisely this work that provides us with the opportunity to raise our sense of consciousness. It is work that brings us to new levels of satisfaction, and gives us the clarity of thought to understand how blessed we might be on any individual day. And maybe most importantly, this work will enable us to understand how important it is to help others have what they need to be whole.
I acknowledge that many of us don’t always feel like we have the power to even get up from our beds in the morning and can’t imagine having the strength to be thankful for anything. However, just having this discussion and knowing that we are not alone in feeling this way, may give all of us the confidence to reach out to each other to make sure that everyone on our right and on our left has just enough to be able to say, “Thank you.” This message is not new. But its renewing essence can continue to change our lives for the better.