Grateful for Gratitude

Gratitude is a very Jewish act.  Too often, being grateful is lost in the business of life, the noisiness of expectations and the hubris of accomplishments.  Our very name though, Jews or Yehudim, derive from a moment of extreme gratitude.

In Genesis 29:35, Leah names one of her sons Judah as an act of praise.  “And she (Leah) conceived again and bore a son, and she said, ‘Now I will praise the Lord and therefore call him Judah (Yehuda)…'”  Today, we are extensions of the tribe of Judah.  Using poetic license, we are from the tribe of gratitude.

Recently, I have pressed myself to find gratitude even in the midst of a problem.  From small moments: there is nothing in the refrigerator that I want to eat… but I am grateful it is full of food.  Or, my phone battery is low… but I am grateful for this ‘First World’ problem of being interconnected with money to pay the bill and enjoying a 4G network.  (Whatever 4G actually is.)

But there are more serious moments as well.

When I have personal difficulties… I am grateful to be surrounded by caring friends.

When my children and I disagree… I am grateful for having passionate, kind and loving children.

When I am sad… I am grateful for having safe spaces where I can be quiet and reflect.

I do not want to overlook any of this but it is not easy to always frame these moments with gratitude.

Gratitude is a spiritual discipline and requires practice.  Thus, each morning Judaism offers us the prayer Modeh ani le’fanechaI am grateful before You.  It is recited upon waking up in the morning.  Judaism has blessings of gratitude for how our body works, our intelligence and that we are a free people.

The liturgy extols these blessings but in the moments of daily life, I sometimes forget how much gratitude is truly deserved.  When I feel overwhelmed, I take a moment, take a deep breath, think of what deserves gratitude in my life, and exhale.  I repeat this to take in a few deep breaths of gratitude.

In those moments when gratitude feels too far away, there are many resources for people to reach out to – the clergy are but one.

While it may feel childish, recall that children are far less inhibited in expressing joy, gratitude and gratefulness.  Maybe the cartoonist Charles Schultz knew something which we too easily forget.  We are the descendants of the tribe of gratitude (Yehuda)… and that is something to be grateful for.

 

 

 

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris

4 comments

Elliott Dickler

Exactly as you have said before in conversation …….. to be grateful which in my mind leads precisely to the act of tzedakah. That’s the source of the good feeling from the act. I have explained my way of thinking about it that way; my jewish friends answer “I see what you mean, it makes sense ”

Shabbat Shalom

Buddy D

Dennis Askwith

I spend a lot of time marveling at all the blessings in my life, but have never quite figured out whether “to be grateful” is a transitive or intransitive verb. Can I be grateful without being grateful TO someone or something? You don’t go so far as to specify that G_d is the source of our blessings. If not Him, are some of us just randomly luckier than others? Or are we ultimately responsible for our own blessings by having been clever enough to defer some immediate gratification in favor of thinking ahead and doing our homework instead of going outside to play ball? Some blessings, however, are totally out of our control. What’s the story with those?

Rabbi Greg Harris

Dennis, Louis Pasteur is credited with saying “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” I guess the rest would be called a blessing.

Dennis Askwith

It seems like there are three possible sources of good fortune: (1) yourself, (2) luck, and (3) some secret hand we can call “G_d”. When any good fortune comes your way, depending on your assessment of the source, you would then direct your gratitude to (1) yourself, (2) the stars, or (3) your G_d, respectively.

As usual, I am left with several questions:

(a) Might you have any suggestions on how we DETERMINE the source of any given good fortune we experience?

(b) Might the three sources not be mutually exclusive? Could a G_d only have a PARTIAL say in how fortunate we are? That would not seem very G-d-like.

(c) If we conclude that the source was our G_d, does Judaism suggest whether He has applied some sort of algorithm or is He simply acting capriciously? For example, if I follow His commandments, am I assured of His blessings?

(d) Will there be an “Excessive Questions” surcharge on my monthly statement?

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