A Thanksgiving Story
A story I once heard from a friend and a colleague. When he was a child during one Thanksgiving holiday meal his father challenged him along with his siblings to think of five things which annoyed them the most. That of course was not hard for the children. Within a few minutes they all had a generous list of aggravating things which they eagerly recited to their dad. "Now" said the father. "I want you to put in front of every aggravating item the phrase "I appreciate" and find a reason why you appreciate each and every item. As children, my colleague said, they could not complete the challenge. "We resisted such a seemingly impossible task."
"Now", his father said, "Think of five small things that you like and enjoy. Again, write the phrase "I appreciate" before each item and give a reason why.” “That of course was a much easier task,” my friend told me. "You see" continued the father, "When you learn to appreciate the little things in life you like, you will be able to better deal with challenges and maybe find a way to appreciate them as well.” As a child, my friend said, he did not quite understand what his dad was trying to teach him. Later on in years to finally understood his father’s lesson.
Appreciation of all aspects in our life, big and small, is paramount in Judaism. It is a corner stone of our belief system . In fact the many blessing we are encouraged to say every day are a perpetual expression of our appreciation of our life.
Think of the basic formula of appreciation, "Baruch Ata Adonai" - Blessed are You G-D. We bless G-D because we acknowledge what G-D does for us and for all mankind everyday, every moment. This of course is the opening statement to all our blessings. It is our expression of appreciation of everything around us, from blessing the variety of foods to anything new in our life, to experiencing a natural phenomenon, to life cycle events and of course many others.
In fact, this ongoing state of thankfulness for all things in our life has a deep spiritual purpose. Having a perpetual mindset of appreciation, by reciting a variety of blessings throughout the day is a powerful spiritual tool. It affords us the inner strength to face life's challenges. When we see our daily events as blessings which warrant expressions of appreciation, this ongoing gratitude gives our life a dimension of sacredness, it brings us closer to G-D and keeps us on a higher spiritual level. Jewish tradition puts all this in place to make sure that we are better equipped to appreciate all which is good in our life and to better face the not-so-good and even find the blessings during the difficult times.
The above was written before the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. So how in the world can appreciation possibly apply in this situation? We certainly aren't grateful this happened! Not only are we dealing with a horrific act of hatred but it is one of pure Anti-Semitism that has touched our very core as Jews! Collectively we are experiencing a wide variety of reactions including horror, grief, despair fear, anger and the need to find blame.
Judaism offers the spiritual tool of appreciation to assist us in the processing of these emotions so we do not sink into them, such as sinking into despair. When we draw our attention to that which we appreciate in our general lives, thus raising our consciousness, we can more easily lessen the severity of our emotions, process them more quickly and return to a sense of inner peace and well being. From this higher state we can then take the steps and actions needed to bring forth change.
Can we possibly also find the blessings? One I am personally seeing is that people of all faiths are coming together in solidarity. May this coming together be the first step in transmuting all forms of hatred and bigotry in our world! For this I can be truly grateful!