I remember going to visit Judy Chicago’s art installation “The Dinner Party” long ago at the Brooklyn Museum. This iconic feminist art piece sits in a mood-lit room, in the middle a triangular table upon which are 39 place … Continue reading
Chanukah approaches with December. We are readying our lives by buying candles and dreidels, dewaxing and polishing our Chanukiot, planning eight nights of gifts, grating our Latkes, looking up recipes for Ponchkes (Yiddish)/Sufganiot (Hebrew)/ Donuts, and planning festive celebrations and meals … Continue reading
“An uninterpreted dream is like a letter that is not opened” says the Talmud[i].
We Jews have long been dream interpreters. From my famous namesake Joseph who dreamed of his rise from the depths of a pit to a high command in Egypt, and who was able to interpret the dreams of his guards and baker and butler inmates, as well as the dreams of the Pharoah of Egypt – to the prophets whose sleeping and waking dreams spoke the words of God – to the rabbis of the Talmud, like Ben Hedya, who was known to give positive interpretations of dreams to those who paid him and negative interpretations to those who did not pay!
We have such a rich tradition of dream interpretation. The Talmud teaches:
If an ox kicks you in your dream, a long journey awaits you. If you see a male chicken in your dream you will have a son. If you see a fig in your dream, you will remember all you who have learned. If you see an egg that breaks in your dream, your dream will be fulfilled. If you are in chains in your dream, you will be protected. If you see a well in your dream, you will behold peace and become a great Torah Scholar.[ii]
“An uninterpreted dream is like a letter that is not opened” says the Talmud. We are a people who believes a dream needs interpretation.
Our Torah portion this week, Balak, tells of the prophet Balaam who is sent by King Balak to curse the people – although the words Balaam speaks can only come through God. The three times the prophet opens his mouth to utter the commissioned curses, he is only able to give the Israelites blessing, as this is God’s will.
In another Talmudic passage there is a beautiful prayer offered in regards to dreams which is linked our parsha. It is recommended as a prayer to say when in a traditional synagogue, the priests do duchanan, when they offer their priestly blessing over the congregations, Tallitot over their heads, their arms out wide and hands shaped in the priestly Vulcan “Live long and prosper” formation. It is a time when it is believed that the conduits between here on earth and the heavens above are made most open through that holy moment and hence the words of our hearts and souls are most effective.
Such a beautiful prayer. It reads –
“Master of the World! My dreams and I belong to You. If the dreams are good — bolster them like the dreams of Joseph. And if they need to be remedied — fix them like the bitter waters that Moses sweetened. Just as You transformed wicked Balaam’s curses into blessings, so too, make all of my dreams be for the best.”[iii]
We are celebrating this weekend the 4th July, American Independence Day, when our country celebrates its dream – the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson and his cohorts wrote –
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[iv]
It is a dream echoed in the words by the Reverend Martin Luther King in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech which had become also part of the American experience.
When I became an American citizen just last High Holy Days, I fulfilled a waking dream of making myself not just a permanent and participating citizen in this country, but part of a society that dreams of honoring all: no matter their origins, gender, color of skin, sexuality. I became part of this American dream that believes in tolerance and as Australian’s would say: “Giving everyone a fair go!” What a beautiful dream that has made this country great.
But not always are our dreams fulfilled. So too with our American dream. The events of the last few weeks so fresh especially here in South Carolina has bought to the fore of national discussion where our American dreams have fallen short.
Rav Kook, an early Zionist, orthodox rabbi and spiritual teacher teaches us about bad dreams, dreams that have gone awry. He suggests that like the prophecy of Balaam which started out bad and turned to good, there are two ways we can transform evil dreams into good outcomes.
The first way is turning the evil around towards good. He examples that when Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he ultimately he rose to greatness, and was able to prepare a region to sustain itself through famine. Out of the nightmare we can refocus and realign to see the good that has come from misfortune.
So we see how the pundits comment on the way that people on both sides of the political spectrum have joined forces to ensure that the Confederate Flag is taken down from the State House close by. Or how the American community has come together to support and mourn with the people of faith at the Emanuel African Methodist Church with expressions of national grief. We refocus to make the best of the nightmare.
Rav Kook teaches that an even more impressive way of dealing with nightmarish situations is when the causes before realized are transformed into positive ones, so that our dreams become sweet because of our actions. This is the proactive approach of turning the bad to the good.
He writes as his sample that God could have let Balaam curse the people of Israel, only later turning the curses into blessings. But instead, God controls Balaam’s mouth so that only blessings are uttered.
Rather than waiting for the ills and injustices of society to fester and foster an incident… this more impressive approach asks us to take our American dreams and values and ask the question – is our society living up to our aspirations? And if not, how can we make this happen? We must examine who we are as Americans, we must focus our sensitivities towards other people’s pain, we must address inequalities before the bad dream takes on true nightmare qualities. We must affirm not just with dreamy words but in waking reality, equality for all and the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all working towards a favorable American world.
The men who wrote the Declaration of Independence, had a vision, a dream for a society better than the one they had known under British rule. When I became an American, I was inspired by this dream of a country with great opportunity.
“An uninterpreted dream is like a letter that is not opened” says the Talmud. We are a people who believes a dream needs interpretation. Let us dream for the good. For the auspicious. For the beneficial. So that all may live and American sweet dream.
[i] Berakhot 55a
[ii] Vanessa Ochs: The Jewish Dream Book pp. 29-31
[iii] Berakhot 55b
[iv] The Declaration of Independence
How is this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze, like a sheep?
Hm. Perhaps I am racing ahead a bit…
Let me tell you a true story.
Last Monday I literally ran out of the office.
I had spent the whole day calendaring with our Interim Educator and I was late, very late, for a very important date! I felt a little overdressed with somewhere to go. I took one look at the sun belting down as I got into my car… and thought to myself: “I should have packed sunscreen and brought a bottle of water – oh, well!” as I then drove the fifteen minutes downtown to the grounds of the South Carolina State House.
The reason: I had just received word that weekend that America’s Journey for Justice had been re-routed from Charlotte to Columbia and this area was to be an anchor city for four days of the march. Rabbi Marcus and Rabbi Doberne-Shorr were marching as well as many other Carolinian colleagues and rabbis from around the country. The very least I could do was spend an hour in Tikkun Olam/repairing the world work, along with these my colleagues in my temporary “home-town”.
But perhaps I am racing ahead on the journey of telling you this story.
Let me back up some.
At the beginning of this summer, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the Union for Reform Judaism’s social action and lobbying arm announced that Reform Jews, Rabbis and Youth would have the opportunity to march with the National Association for the Advancement of Color People on America’s Journey for Justice. This historic journey, an 860 mile march from Selma, Alabama to Washington DC, is designed to mobilize activists and place focus on the national advocacy agenda for the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage, and equitable public education. At the State House, they were just readying to surpass 500 miles of their trek. In every state that the journeyers visit… a different social issue is focused on.[i]
In the Torah portions of last week, this week, and next week, almost every few verses a different social issue is focused on. Last week, Shoftim, this week Ki Tetze and next week, Ki Tavo, like this Journey for Justice, focus on the laws to make a society fair, equable, safe and well run. Beginning with the emphatic words of Shoftim “Justice, justice you shall pursue”[ii], the laws notated in our three Torah portions deal with in Rabbi Gunther Plaut’s, phraseology: “the social weal.”
In amongst the many laws of these three Torah sections we find commandments on issues as far and wide as fair economics, murder, the rules of war, the rebellious son, how to deal with the criminal, maintaining good societal boundaries, physical hygiene, charging interest, fulfilling vows and much, nuch more for the well running of a fair society.
We also find one really strange law that the rabbis have puzzled over for centuries. This is the law of sha’atnez. “You shall not wear cloth combining wool and linen.”[iii]
Commentators have asked many hard questions about this law. Why are we not allowed to wear wool and linen together? The rabbis called this rule a Chok, a specific type of rule that is there for no apparent reason. As the 11th century commentator Rabbi Shlomo bar Yitzchak, RASHI, wrote: “What is this command? What logic is there to it?” Why can’t we wear linen and wool together? There is no reason, or no reason that we are capable of grasping.
Now, just because we don’t know “why” in Jewish tradition, does not mean that commentators have not tried to ascertain some logic.
Which brings me back to my sheep.
The Kabbalists, the mystics of Judaism suggest that at the end of days, when the world is of an elevated consciousness, there will also be a radical change to the state of animals, who will evolve into an intellectual state similar to that of current humans. With that in mind, the commentator Rav Avraham Isaac Kook wrote at the end of the nineteenth century:
“Man, in his boundless egocentricity, approaches the poor cow and sheep. From one he seizes its milk, and from the other, its fleece…. There would be no impropriety in taking the wool were the sheep burdened by its load; but we remove the wool when its natural owner needs it. Intellectually, we recognize that this is a form of theft — oppression of the weak at the hands of the strong.”[iv]
In the time to come, when animals consciousness is raised, Rav Kook suggests that we will need to be able to distinguish between the difference of wool and linen. Linen taken from the flax plant will not impoverish the plant. But fleecing the sheep, will take from the animal something it needs.
Whether we buy into the notion that the consciousness of animals will be elevated at the end of days, or the analogy that Rav Kook makes to try to understand why wool and linen cannot be worn together, does not matter. The essential lesson that Rav Kook is teaching is similar to the message that those marching on America’s Journey for Justice are trying to convey. In our society, it is a form of theft, when we oppress the weak at the hands of the strong.
We fleece fellow Americans when they must work long hours but are unable to make a living wage.
We fleece fellow Americans when they do not have access to bulk stores like Sam’s Club or Costco, where only the rich can shop, because transportation will not take those of lesser economic circumstance out of the neighborhood, where only expensive mom and pop stores provide the essentials of life.
We fleece fellow Americans when their children do not have access to the same educational opportunities that the kids in richer neighborhoods are given.
We fleece ourselves as s society when these children do not have the education tools, such as paper, text books, computers, that will stretch their thinking to be the best it can be.
We fleece fellow Americans when they are given longer sentences because of the color of their skin and nationality for similar offences to white people.
We fleece fellow Americans when they do not have the same access to voting rights.
When I ran out of the office last Monday, the words of last week’s Torah portion and this week’s Torah portion were ringing in my ears. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” The Social Weal needs to be fair and equitable. What am I, a Jewish leader, doing to make it happen? What are we as Jewish individuals doing to make it happen? What are we as a Jewish community doing to make it happen?
As people of privilege, it is easy for us to sit comfortably in our home and our synagogue and just talk the talk of justice. The Journey for Justice, was walking the walk, in the hope that footsteps would be heard and echoed throughout the land. Their steps and voices will grow louder as they get closer to the Washington Mall. Their steps and voices will grow louder as we amplify their story in the press and pulpit, in our homes and on our ways.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched alongside The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of that historic march 50 years ago as “praying with his feet.” Last Monday I witnessed Blacks, Jews and others, journeying, praying with their feet. Let us pray with our feet, our hands, our minds, our heart, our determination, that we too can be involved in some small or large way in our lives, in making for a more equitable and fair society. Living up to the words of Torah, perpetuating the Jewish legacy of justice for us and for the society we live in.
And let us say… Amen.
[ii] Deut 16:20
[iii] Deut 22:11
[iv] Otzarot HaRe’iyah vol. II, p. 97
And we ask: Where’s the hand of God? …When Freddie Gray dies in police custody from a spinal cord injury.
And we ask: Where’s the hand of God?… as the death toll in Nepal exceeds 4000, and the injury told beyond 7,500.
And we ask: Where’s the hand of God?… as protestors become violent on the streets of Baltimore, less than an hour away.
And we ask: Where’s the hand of God?… as a teenage girl being attacked by amorous men is thrown from a bus to her death.
And we ask: Where’s the hand of God? … as the young die of diseases not cured.
And we ask: Where’s the hand of God? … when things go awry in our lives or those of our friends.
And we ask: Where’s the hand of God? … when natural disaster wreaks havocs on lives.
And we ask: Where’s the hand of God? … when our environment succumbs to vulnerabilities.
Where’s the hand of God?
The easiest way to answer when bad things happen is in the negative… for we recognize intuitively where the metaphorical hand of God is not.
God is not in the violence, God is not in the hate, God is not in the earth’s tremors or the earth’s winds, God is not in the lust, God is not in the ego that does not venture beyond id, God is not in power struggles, God is not in the politics that play with people’s lives, God is not in bad things that happen to us, others or the world.
Where is then the hand of God to be found? Such a deep question with so many complex answers.
One answer –
The hand of God is in our tears, in our compassion, in our caring. When we are moved by the troubles of others, when we empathize with the pathos of their suffering, when we pray for them in our hearts, we manifest the love of God into the universe. When we love our neighbors as ourselves we bring the hand of God into this world. When we weep, so does God.
One answer –
The hand of God is in our movement towards action – when we make a donation to help our brothers and sisters, when we work for equality for all peoples whatever their skin color, when we sponsor research, when we comfort the mourner and feed the hungry, when we raise awareness, and address society’s ills. We become God’s partners, God’s hands in repairing the world.
One answer –
The hand of God cradles us with love so that we can endure what is beyond endurance. When we let the spirit of God support us and know that there is life beyond pain, endurance beyond suffering, and that through will and support there is nothing we cannot forebear. We feel the hand of God on our shoulders, the touch of God in our hearts.
One answer –
The hand of God is in in the path of goodness. God is found in universal values of peace, justice, love, compassion, equality, humanity. When we manifest the positive into our environment God’s presence is strengthened for us and for others. God’s hand’s hover over all of us like a parent blesses a child.
One answer –
The hand of God is felt in community that comes together and is there for each other. It is in the prayers they lift up with one voice. It is in the discussions of the holy that happen in their midst. It is in the study and the struggles that they share. God’s hand links each of their hands as they journey in life.
One answer –
The hand of God is in radical amazement when we know that miracles abound. As beautiful as a sunrise and as glorious as an ocean vista. They can be found in the little small details of existence– the fact that our hearts beat and our eyes open in the morning, the little bud on a tree in spring or the fact that water sits at the base of our cups. The sky is blue. The trees are green. The hand of God is in all of creation – if we choose to widen our eyes clearly enough we can feel.
When we ask: Where is the hand of God as we confront all that goes awry, it is too easy to forget in the randomness of existence, that so much of our world works, that is right and good and wonderful, where God is to be found.
Our ancestors believed that God had a strong hand and a mighty arm. Limited by their understanding of the world and the inadequacy of words, they spoke of God in human terms. We too have words unable to express the wonders of the Spirit that Unites us all, but just because the one that is Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey, the One that is Becoming is beyond our grasp, does not mean that we are cannot recognize or see or feel or intuit the touch of God in the universe and in our souls.
When we ask – Where is the hand of God? The answer is by necessity beyond our reach but at the same time able to be known. God’s metaphorical hand is as real as an ever present touch in our hearts and souls and minds.
(Or so they were called in my family. Others call them Matzah Kleis – matzah matzah balls – whatever you call them: they are delicious!)
I swore I was going to break the mold this year. I wasn’t gonna make and roll them. But it is not Pesach until I have made my grandmother’s knaidlach (matzah balls) from scratch. Soaked matzah, onion, celery, ginger, parsley, cinnamon, salt, pepper, egg and a little meal oh my! Vegetarian broth on the 2 hour boil. I think it’s lunch.
Ingredients to taste (as all good old recipes are)
- 6 matzah soaked 2-12 hours
- A little onion chopped fine
- 1 stick celery chopped fine
- Few sprigs parsley finely chopped
- Shake of cinnamon
- Shake of ginger
- 2 large eggs
- Superfine (cake) matzah meal
Method to feel (Yep. Shown the feel by Grandma and Mum as a child and I just know when they are right).
Soak Matzah in water in a bowl.
Place celery and onion in pan and brown in oil. Drain very well.
Strain and squeeze matzah in a fine mesh colander. Place in bowl. Add egg, cinnamon, ginger, salt, pepper, parsley and sauté mixture.
Stir in matzah meal till right consistency is attained for rolling balls.
Roll in matzah meal and stand in tray in fridge.
Cook in soup for 10-20 minutes.
Can be pre-boiled, frozen or not, and reheated in soup.
As Passover approaches, our minds turn to the Haggadah, the book of “retelling” our people’s mythical history, our experience of when we were slaves in Egypt. The Haggadah tells of our enslavement 400 years from the time of Joseph, the injustices that happened to us in servitude to Pharaoh, and of the miraculous events that lead to our liberation from bondage.
The traditional Haggadah tells not just the biblical story of m’avdut l’cherut, from slavery to freedom, but uses the bible story as a template for the many times in our history when we were enslaved and worked towards independence.
Have you ever wondered why the story of five rabbis holding a Seder in the town of B’nai B’rak appears in the Haggadah? The legend tells us that the rabbi’s Seder went on all night until their students interrupted the Seder with a call to morning prayers. Tradition has come to teach us that these rabbis were not discussing Egyptian slavery but their own struggle against the Roman oppression.
Have you ever wondered why we sing a song about a goat that our father bought for two Zuzim, and all the unfortunate circumstances which occurred to everything that comes into contact with that goat? Chad Gadya, the one goat is a metaphor for those who are oppressed who will be ultimately redeemed by the Holy One.
The Haggadah is certainly foremost a Jewish story with a particularistic paradigm. It speaks to the creation of our identity as Jews. But it is also a universalistic story that makes us aware that we are part of humanity. The Haggadah is symbolically the retelling of the story of anyone and everyone who is oppressed, enslaved, and who longs for freedom. Hence the tradition of including readings in the Haggadah or writing whole Haggadot that speak of specific injustices – topics such as environment, Holocaust Darfur, African American oppression, LGBTQ rights and so much more – have found their way into our Pesach Seder for contemplation.
In its’ particularism and universalism the Haggadah is a metaphor for our own lives. Bottom line, our identity should be a Jewish identity. We form our own and our children’s identities through a Jewish lens. That does not make us impervious or indifferent to that which is not Jewish. The presence of other religions and secular society is part of our reality. However our approach to that which is not Jewish should be appreciated by us through our Jewish paradigm.
We are Jews visiting the Christmas celebration of others. We are Jews lighting candles on the side lines of our child’s Friday night soccer game. We are Jews eating Pesachdik at our families’ Easter tables. We are Jews who seek to understand and learn from Buddhist meditation. We are Jews who are involved in social causes because our tradition demands that we are God’s partners in Tikkun Olam, world repair.
Like the Haggadah which is a uniquely Jewish story that allows for the embrace and understanding of various other narratives within its context, Judaism should be and must be our basic paradigm of our personal narratives in the midst of our modern lives.
Passover is the time of our retelling the tale of freedom and formation as a Jewish people. Let it be a time also to contemplate how Judaism underlies the telling of your own life.
Prior to returning to congregational life, I spent 5 years working for the Union for Reform Judaism. When I would go out and speak to congregations we had a common catch phrase that we would use often. A phrase with my Australian accent, but in fact, with any accent, you would have to say very carefully.
That phrase was: SHIFT HAPPENS. One thing we know about congregations, schools, institutions and events in our own lives, is that SHIFT HAPPENS. Shift is one of the few constants in our lives along with… well… death. And while shift is necessary for invigoration, renewal, innovation, it can also be incredibly disconcerting. SHIFT HAPPENS.
Over the last two weeks in the ever-moving stories of our Torah, the Israelites journey from Mitzrayim, narrow places – through the birth canal of the split Red Sea – into the openness of the Midbar, wilderness. Their lives shift immensely. All at once they crave boundaries, vision and stability. Quite a tall order! In Mishpatim, the boundaries begin as 53 laws are outlined. But these laws only inspire the need or want for even greater shift.
So… At the end of Mishpatim, comes a WOW moment. A visionary moment. Bring on the shifting sands of the wilderness! The final 9 verses outline a fabulous, fantastical mystical description.
In chapter 24 Moses, accompanied by Aaron and Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu and 70 of the Elders, journey up a mountain and there Yiru et Elohei Yisrael behold the God of Israel – seeing under God’s feet pavement of sapphire like sky for purity.
They eat and drink.
The elders, Aaron and his sons, stay behind on the mountain, as Moses is beckoned by God to journey further.
At God’s behest, Moses enters into a cloud for 6 days and then continues up the mountain to receive the stone tablets, residing on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights.
Amidst all this, the Israelites stay at the mountain foot, perceiving God as a consuming fire atop the peak.
Here is a mystical vision which teaches us so much about how SHIFT HAPPENS.
Change happens in increments:
- We have the introduction of Mishpatim, ideas, rules, as inspiration.
- Then the journey of the leadership up the mountain.
- An aha moment! When they see God.
- A celebration of that moment.
Not everyone is in the same place on this continuum of change:
- Moses is in the cloud.
- The future priesthood and Joshua outside the cloud.
- The people are at the base of the mountain.
The process of change is awe inspiring but also very disconcerting.
Our Torah Portion Mishpatim, leaves us with this very cliff hanger. Spirituality. Awe. Intangibility. Uncertainty. Shift. We wonder where will the journey of change lead? Can we keep up this momentum of spiritual growth as a people? What will the next steps be?
And for that we have to wait for our Torah portion Terumah….
Terumah and the Torah narrative bring us back down to earth.
God tells the Israelite people: Asu Li Mikdash V’Shachanti B’tocham Make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. We are told what items to bring to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.
God’s presence will no longer be “up there” in a vision, but felt concretely in the Mishkan in the middle of the camp. The vision will be given earthly roots and we will be involved in its creation and implementation as we stabilize the vision amidst us.
And so we learn: In the process of SHIFT HAPPENING, it is important that there is a time of consolidation, a time where every one of us gets involved and invested in the vision, when it becomes actualized and present, part of our every day midst, before we can continue through the desert/Midbar into further shifting sands of life.
Take a moment for reflection and think about change. Change in your work, or your family, your congregation or your life… How do these lessons and your experiences of SHIFT past relate to your life experience?
- What was the impetus?
- How was the vision articulated and realized?
- What were the increments in establishing that vision?
- Where were you in the change continuum? Where were others?
- How was the vision, grounded and consolidated?
- When was it time for shift to happen again?
- How might these lessons be applied in your lives next time… SHIFT HAPPENS?
In a few hours when I arrive in Australia my parents will await me in a coffee shop adjacent to the International Arrivals at Melbourne airport, with a “Skinny Flat White” in their hands to greet me off the plane. There will be big hugs. My Mum will ask if I remembered her Dior perfume from Duty Free. My Dad even though he is not allowed to anymore (for health reasons) will ask to wheel my luggage. Then we will walk into a warm summer day, pay the electronic parking ticket and head down the freeway towards their home.
I will notice a year of changes in them (the aging process seems to accelerate year-by-year) and they will point out little changes in the landscape and the city. I will ask after my brother, sister-in-law and nephew and when I am going to see them? Who is joining us for Shabbat dinner and if we have plans yet for “our birthdays”? They will ask if I am hungry after a long flight with constant servings of food and I will say – “not so much”.
There is something very comforting about knowing what our future holds. Not often do we get to predict with accuracy the way that our lives unfold. Excerpts of Alvin Fine’s words which I sometimes read at funerals “life is a journey… a sacred pilgrimage… made stage by stage…” along with the mantra I would often repeat as advice while working for the Union for Reform Judaism: “shift happens” reverberate more often in our lives rather than predictability.
If I was more of a thrill seeker perhaps I would be better at embracing the unknown future. But as in the real world, my emotional world is not terrific on roller coaster rides. I brace myself on the rise holding tight and close my eyes and gasp at the free fall. I am constantly having to remind myself that at the end of the journey there will be a sense of adventure and a realm of experience that will be part of my growth and well being.
When I look back on times of uncertainty past I have always landed on my feet. Trust in God, the ability to be creative and adapt, to do my best in all circumstances, to keep my options open and fluid, have led to a richer landscape of an unpredictable life. I would not change any of it. And I think to myself: if life predictably unfolded and I always knew what the future held, how boring it would be!
But for now, amidst a time of many changes, just for some short moments, I am hankering for predictability and thankful that soon I will arrive at Melbourne Airport. Mum and Dad: bring that “skinny flat white” on!
This Thanksgiving weekend I have been thinking a lot about thanks. It is my first Thanksgiving as a US Citizen for which I am enormously thankful after years of visas, green card, peppered with mixed immigration status. I am beyond blessed to have loved long-term friends who moved north around the same time as me, with whom I get to spend Thanksgiving in the Virginia/Maryland/DC area. I have a warm and welcoming community congregational community where I am fortunate enough to be rabbi. I have people around me who make me feel loved, valued and nurtured. Yes, this Thanksgiving weekend I have been thinking a lot about thanks.
However, being grateful for life and blessings as a Jew is not limited to a one-time a year American holiday. Jews don’t limit thankfulness only to a day with laden tables and turkey/tofurky, cranberry sauce and pies. Our tradition would have us every morning, before we rise, begin with a prayer of thanks. It is a prayer said as we lie flat, as our neshema/souls are restored within us from their nightly cleansing in the heavens on high. It is a prayer said laying on our pillows in that sleepy dreamy moment as we awake, as our unconscious gives way to our conscious. It is a prayer said at the beginning of our day, designed to get us out on the right side of the bed.
There is an importance in the word order. Most translations, like the one above, begin with the word “I”, emphasizing self. However the Hebrew does not put the “I” first. The Hebrew reads: “thankful am I”. Our morning, coming into our own wakefulness, does not begin with a sense of self, but rather a sense of thanks.
What would it take for our one day of American thanks to morph into the Jewish custom of every day thanks? Just a short tiny prayer said under our blankets! That should not be too hard, right? Imagine how different your day would look if thanks was the first thought upon awakening? Imagine how your life might be transformed if thanks was your set induction into each morning’s existence.
So this American Thanksgiving Holiday, join me in emphasizing thanks in the every day. Vow to always get out on the right side of the bed with the words “Thankful am I…” to see beyond your self to the many blessings in life that abound.