A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gratitude - Overstuffed Turkey edition

I’m opening this blog to those in my Musar class, The 613 Habits of Highly Effective People (well, it was open before, but I’m steering the class here now). The next class will focus on the middah (attribute) of gratitude. I’m encouraging people in the class (and feel free to jump in if you’re not in the class) to comment on the post, and comment on the comments. In other words, let’s use the blog as a place for discussion.

But first, something strange for Thanksgiving. In Hebrew, the word hodu means both “turkey” and “give thanks.” Think about that coincidence over the holiday…

Back to gratitude. In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, Jacob famously lays down to sleep and dreams of a ladder reaching up to heaven. God addresses him, assuring him that the Divine presence will be with Jacob as he journeys.

Then Jacob wakes up. Startled, he says “Ah, yes, God is in this place – and I did not know.” This is commonly understood in two ways. Some people (Ibn Ezra, Rashi) say that the actual spot where Jacob went to sleep was loaded with prophetic energy. But others (Genesis Rabbah) point out that “this place” could refer to the whole world.

If we go with this second interpretation, then we should constantly be saying, like Jacob, “God is in this place and I did not know.”

This fits nicely with the phrase that best conveys gratitude in Hebrew: hakarat ha-tov, literally “recognition of the good.” Simply put, that’s what gratitude is: recognizing what is good in our lives, without either denying or getting caught up in the myriad problems we know are there, too.

Gratitude is essential to a Jewish life. It’s in our prayers, blessings, rituals. We are supposed to wake up to it, sleep to it, eat to it. Having said that, it’s easier to talk about gratitude than to feel it. How is it going for you?

Happy Thansgiving, and please share your thoughts about gratitude. For those in the class, you may also decide this is a good place to comment on the theme’s of last class: humility and patience.

So, let me express my genuine gratitude for those of you who read this blog and share your thoughts with me on and off line. And a heartfelt thank you also to those who have already made the 613 Habits class so rich already.

- Rabbi Josh