SEE VIDEO BELOW NOTES
GRATITUDE AND GIVING
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
“The mental, emotional [and spiritual] muscles required to write a letter, clean the garage/home, or pay our bills on time, are the very same ‘muscles’ involved in running a company or managing a department [or to do whatever He has called you to do].
~ Jim Rohn
GRATITUDE AND GIVING
Life is filled with laws that affect our behavior; a classic one being the law of gravity. Entwined in the actions of “well doing,” of which giving is one, we find another majorly significant law, that of sowing and reaping. Every positive action we take, and effort we make, will bring multiple rewards in its wake. They may appear to be insignificant efforts or actions, in response to the small opportunities that life constantly brings our way, however, when done with care in a disciplined way they become like “seeds” we sow that will blossom into greater opportunities, blessings, and fulfilment.
Our aim this year, in the “Keep Climbing!” Series, has been to sharpen our awareness of our inner self, our spirit or soul, and to recognize where our positive strengths can be enhanced and where any negative weaknesses can be transformed and strengthened. We understood that all personal growth happens through taking “small steps.” Growth and transformation begin by mastering the small details of our lives.
The everyday, seemingly small things are like the nails that hold a ship together. We are familiar with the saying: “For the sake of a nail the ship was lost!” By neglecting one or more of the “small” areas we risk being robbed of future health, quality of life, and strong, healthy relationships. Discipline is the challenge! And, to maintain discipline requires the right attitude and motivation. How does this understanding affect our focus this month on the attribute of gratitude and the mitzvah , or ‘well doing’ of giving?
In response, I would like to share a story. It’s more like a folk-tale but it conveys a deep truth. It takes place in a village that is located in an area suffering a severe famine. A traveler arrives in town, and the villagers try to discourage him from staying as they fear he might want them to give him food. They loudly proclaim there is no food to be had in the village. To their surprise, the traveller assures them that he doesn’t want their food, in fact, he was planning to make a huge pot of soup to share with them all.
He asks them to bring the largest pot they can find and they watch, with a certain degree of suspicion, as he proceeds to make a fire and to fill the large pot with water. Next, with a great flourish, he pulls a stone from his bag and ceremoniously drops it into the pot of water. After a minute or two, he sniffs the brew and exclaims how delicious this stone soup is. By now the villagers are showing more interest, and he proclaims how really good the soup would be if just a little cabbage was added to it. A villager runs home and returns with a cabbage to add to the pot. He repeats the ‘advice’ until the soup has the addition of carrots, onions, beets, salt and herbs. In the end, the stone soup is indeed a substantial, tasty soup – and enough to feed all the village!
Being human, we all tend to hoard when times are difficult. We pull back, shut others out, and focus on self-preservation. In doing so, as we see illustrated in the story, we actually deprive ourselves and others of a delicious soup-feast! We can also extend this concept beyond food and material goods and also apply it to areas such as love, ideas, energy, creativity – in sharing the skills and talents our Creator, the Great Giver, has gifted us with. We deprive ourselves, those close to us, and in fact the whole world, when we withhold any good we can give to others. The traveler was able to discern that the villagers were holding back selfishly but he had the wisdom and the skill to inspire them to give, which resulted in a nourishing meal that none of them could have created on their own.
The story also makes me think of the restoration and building up of Israel! When the first waves of Aliyah started, during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Jews were coming home to join the small population of Jews who had always remained in the Land, and many of them came with only what they were wearing or with very meagre possessions. What did they do? They pooled together whatever they had in belongings, and also in their skills and resolve, and established kibbutzim where everything was shared. They had to work the desolate land and build from scratch – draining inhospitable swampland and bringing water to the desert, planting trees and flowers in land that had been denuded and neglected through the centuries by the previous Greek, Roman, Arab and Turkish occupiers. Largely thanks to these kibbutzim, we all have seen, with our own eyes, the miracle of restoration that has taken place, with God’s help. Even in the face of constant attacks of the enemy on every front, today, Israel is a thriving nation, and even is exporting flowers to the nations! Baruch HaShem!
Speaking of trees, You may have heard or seen my His-Israel post for Tu Be’Shevat (The New Year for Trees) called “Trees of the Bible.” Here is the link if you missed it:
In the post I mention the interesting fact that the tree God chose to decorate the beautiful curtains in the Holy Place was the palm tree – Tamar in Hebrew. During their forty year sojourn through the wilderness, it is likely that palm trees were the most welcome sight to the Israelites. The tall trees could be seen from afar, and their wide branches, waving in the breeze, beckoned them to an oasis, where they would find water, shade, rest, and sustenance. Likewise the Presence of God is our only true oasis in our sojourn on earth. In that Holy Place we find rest for our souls, and are strengthened and sustained by the bread and the living water of His Word.
Psalm 92:12-13 tells us: Tzaddik k’tamar nivrach. “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree.” The palm is the most giving of trees. Apart from offering shade from the sun, every part of the tree is useful. Its dates are among the healthiest of foods, the pits are used for animal fodder, its branches are used for weaving mats and baskets, and even its trunk can be used for furnishings or firewood. In like manner, the righteous are those who willingly and naturally give and share all they can of themselves with others. In our self-centred, materialistic world this is not an easy level of righteousness to attain; but, again, it’s the small steps of generosity we take that eventually enable us to bloom like the palm tree.
Let us now consider the related attribute of gratitude. There is much truth in the well-known phrase encouraging one to have “an attitude of gratitude.” The mitzvah of giving also includes receiving. The emphasis on, and pride in, self-sufficiency in Western culture often makes it a difficult challenge to rely on someone else for help. In extreme cases, like severe illness or injury, it is unavoidable; however, even in natural situations like a house move or the birth of a new baby, or the death of a loved one, we should not feel that we need to prove how strong we are and do it all ourselves. We can make things worse by pushing ourselves to do more than we should or, on the other extreme, lapse into a depressed feeling of uselessness; neither of which are healthy. Once we can face the reality of the situation and realize our own real needs, we can be vulnerable and open ourselves to others who may be in a position to help. In doing so, we will not lose the valuable opportunity to practice acceptance and humility. We prove to ourselves and others that none of us is alone in the world. As we do so, a deep feeling of gratitude can be experienced. An added benefit is that we, in turn, are enabled to be more wise and compassionate in our service to others.
Only when our hearts are open to love can we both happily give and be grateful to receive. Our Great Giver is also our Great Lover. I read a lovely article in the Jerusalem Post this past month, written by Dvorah Waysman, a wonderfully gifted and gracious author already well into her eighties, entitled The great lover. She quotes from a poem of the same name, written by a British poet named Rupert Brooke, who tragically was killed at the age of 28 in the First World War. In the poem, she writes, he details all the things that were most dear to him – from “the strong crusts of friendly bread, the cool kindliness of sheets” to “the benison [blessing] of hot water.”
She was inspired by the poem “…to make a list of the things I take for granted in Jerusalem, but which nevertheless enrich my life. These I have loved:
The sound of the siren that ushers in the Sabbath, knowing that for the next 24 hours my life will be peaceful and elevated above the mundane. The wind sighing in the pine trees outside my window and the birds that nest there so that each morning I awaken to birdsong. Dawn shyly creeping on my balcony when Jerusalem is bathed in pearl as the city still sleeps. The special quality of light in Jerusalem, especially the sunset when indigo shadows lengthen and the sky is strewn with stars. I love the quiet street where I live, the feeling “I am coming home” as I turn the corner.
“ The things we love the most surround each of us every day, waiting to be acknowledged and appreciated. If we can take a few moments to pause and saver them, then like the dead young poet, we can say they were lovely and – we loved!”
Here in Israel, and in many Jewish communities worldwide, you often hear the expression, “Baruch HaShem!” In English it means Thank God, Praise be to God, or literally, Bless God! It is the common response when one asks a person, “How are you?” Because, no matter if you are feeling wonderfully fine or not feeling that well, there still is reason to praise and thank God; even if only for the fact that you are still alive and breathing!
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks records how the renowned Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement in the 18th century, used to travel around to all the towns and villages in Eastern Europe teaching, and would specifically ask every Jew he met how they were. He was genuinely interested in each one but also anticipated the inevitable response of “Baruch HaShem.” The reason he gave for doing this was the verse: “You [God] are enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:4). So, any time one proclaims “Baruch HaShem!” we are helping to build a throne here on earth for His Holy Presence.
Another verse in Isaiah tells us: “The whole world is filled with His glory!” (6:13). God is everywhere and in everything, which the Hassidim believe is reason to be joyful in all things. Our Creator showers us with blessings every day through the wonders of Creation, and we can enjoy them and appreciate their beauty because they bring us back to their source – God Himself. Therefore, as the Rabbis point out, we can find cause to bless and thank God at least 100 times a day in acknowledgement that, as our loving, faithful Father, He cares for us and provides for our needs.
One blessing I try to remember, as well as the lovely one said on waking every morning before getting out of bed, is one said before drinking a glass of water or a cup of coffee (which takes care of quite a few of the 100!). Most blessings begin with the words: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam… Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe… For coffee or water, etc., it continues: …She’hakol ne’hiyeh b’dvaro. …by whose word all things came into being.” Abraham Joshua Heschel describes how”[With this simple blessing] we remind ourselves of the eternal mystery of Creation.” A trivial everyday act reminds us of a supreme miracle!
We have so many occasions for blessing our Father, the Source of all good things. Most blessings are for food, such as those on Shabbat over the wine and the bread, and the Birkat HaMazon said after a meal, which begins: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who feeds all living things.” There are many more, some of which Rabbi Joseph Telushkin describes in his book Jewish Literacy: “…on seeing beautiful trees and animals (Blessed are You …who has such as these in His world); on meeting a great Torah scholar (Blessed are You…. Who has given of His wisdom to those who revere You); on hearing bad news (Blessed are You …the true Judge); and on hearing good news (Blessed are You …who are good and benificent).”
One of the best known blessings is the She’heh’chi’yanu. “Blessed be You O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who grants us life and sustenance and has permitted us to reach this [festive] occasion.” It is said when lighting the candles at the beginning of every Festival and on many other happy occasions, including tasting a fruit for the first time in a season, when moving into a new home, or wearing new clothes.
So, dear friends, we can indeed say a heartfelt She’heh’chi’yanu that He has sustained us through our “Keep Climbing!” series and has brought us to the threshold of a new Rosh Chodesh cycle, during which we aim to keep learning and growing spiritually and to continue “Spiraling Up!” All for His glory. Baruch HaShem!