Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Being Thankful

After taking a summer break, I am back. Thanks to all of you who said they missed the blog. Blogging is quite a burden when you commit yourself to posting multiple times a week. I have decided to go for a monthly post. And if something comes up in the middle, maybe I'll post about that too :-)

This month, I want to talk about being thankful. If a can use a cue from the Parsha, it is this week that we read the verse:

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ה' אלוקיך על הארץ הטובה אשר נתן לך

This is the passuk that tells us to say Birkhat Hamazon. But look at the context in Devarim ch.8! - It is all about taking nothing for granted. It is about realising that our good fortune is a blessing and that we shouldn't just live our lives forgetting to reflect upon the goodness that we have - our homes, our livelihood, even our food and clothing. No! We should activate our brains to connect those things to the Source of everything i.e. God.

I have always connected deeply to the notion of blessings. I have always felt taht brachot - made on food, new acquisitions, smell, scenery, lightning, thunder, the sea, the Queen, and what have you - they bring God into our lives in a very tangible way. A blessing is an opportunity to recognise God in the small things and to spiritualise even the most mundane moments.

But actually many of those moments are not mundane. Thunder and lightening are an awe inspiring experience. Experiencing new fruits when you watch them grow, is a real exciting feeling of renewal and the force of nature. Brachot allow us to capture emotions.

For example when the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch tell us that when we see a special friend, we accompany our delight at seeing them with a Birkhat Shehecheyanu. The intense emotion of friendship is channeled and heightened by the recital of the bracha.

I guess I am saying a few things:
1. That brachot help us stop and appreciate life
2. That they allow us to see God in the mundane physical world
3. That they are frequently (esp. Birkhot Hashevach) a way of giving expression to a heightened emotional experience.

And Birkhat Hamazon daily should help us appreciate our lives, our livelihood, our food and our country.

I once read a beautiful "Vort" by one of the Chassidishe Rebbes. (It was in a small book - Way of Man(?)- by Buber.) When Avraham feeds the 3 "men" who visit him - we know they were angels - it writes:
והוא עומד עליהם תחת העץ ויאכלו
And the question is, how can Abraham - a mere human - stand "above" the angels?

The answer is that in eating we stand above the angels. Angels are spiritual an disconnected with physical living. But with a bracha, with kashrut, with netilat yadayim, we can spiritualise the physical act of eating. But it is more than that.

When you think of a bracha, it is a very simple formulation. It essentially is a recognistion, a tribute that the goodness (or bad) of my life is from God. That is powerful.

First we have to see goodness. Then we have to know where it is from. Then we have to say thank you.
and when we say thank you and express appreciation, we become richer people. Berachot force us into this excercise.

My Rabbi (Rav Rimon) once spoke about an exercise that he recommended for families. He had noticed that his kids were arguing and acting a little selfish. He decided that before they each went to bed, they would say something nice that each family member had done to them that day. Very oson they were more appreciative and less accusatory.
(Now of course, when I tried this at home, it totally failed. The first kid refused to acknowledge that any of his siblings had been nice in any way that day! A total failure!)

My point is that when we acknowledge that there is good in our lives, and we appreciate it and express that, then we train our mind to be appreciative. We appreciate rather than accuse. We focus on the good rather than the annoying and bad. We live in a world which pursues more, which convinces us that we don't have enough, that others have more, that we are miserable because we lack so much. Advertising convinces us about all the things taht we "need" - that we don't need. And the feeling that we are needy makes us depressed. But in truth our society has so much. We are so fortunate. When we list our blessings, we begin to realise how much we do have. And then we become happier as we count our blessings and our good fortune for every little luxury and necessity that we benefit from.


lars shalom said...

how does bracha compare to isolt??

lars shalom said...

I mean in terms, of...thinking...bread? Happy repeating???

Jesse said...

Well one things for sure, its a blessing for me to have this particular blog back up and running again! I'll settle for updates every once a month and be grateful :). I just got back from backpacking with my brother in Virginia at Shenandoah National Park and the nature, the vistas, the serenity was beautiful. Enough for my brother and I to make a brachah! I remember 2 years ago Rav Alex gave a shiur in which he pressed the issue about our hesitation to use God's name and how there are actually many appropriate opportunities to bring God in our lives with Brachot. The main point of his Shiur was going through my mind as my brother and I proudly and gratefully thanked God for the delicate and beautiful forest. It was a wonderful feeling to make that brachah!

Anonymous said...

so happy you're back

lycralout said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.