Grateful Footsteps

Here is a tool for greatness: Watch a truly righteous person very carefully and observe what he does in order to emulate him.

Today, think of three great people that you know, heard of, or have read about. What can you learn from each one?

-see Vilna Gaon – Proverbs 12:26;
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from the “Today’s Daily Lift” series
“Study and Emulate Great People”

G‑d is not understandable. But G‑d ponders Himself. And this mode of pondering Himself He gave to us, dressed in many stories and rituals and ways of life.

Dressed in those clothes we become G‑d, pondering Himself.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Dressed in G-d’s Clothes”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

It’s one thing to attempt to gain some wisdom by studying the teachings of the wise and righteous and another thing entirely to “become God pondering Himself.”

Or is there?

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. –1 Corinthians 4:14-17 (ESV)

You may think it was odd that Paul said to “be imitators of me” rather than to be imitators of Christ. I’d have to guess at his motivations, but if he understood the discipleship model, then he understood that the teachings of a great Master or Rebbe are passed down from teacher to student multi-generationally. Paul never directly studied under Jesus, but in some manner we don’t fully comprehend, Jesus was indeed his teacher and Paul became the teacher to the Gentiles, passing on the wisdom of the Messiah. In some way, through Paul and the Bible, we have become students of our Master as well.

But there could be many other reasons why Paul phrased his comment to the Corinthians the way he did. It may have to do with how Jesus almost exclusively taught Jewish disciples and how Paul, knowing he was to teach primarily the Gentiles, may have adapted what he taught relative to the requirements of the Goyim, God, and the Torah. But I’m not going to get into that today. I’m not going to get into the mechanics of what God does or doesn’t want us to do in the specific details of our worship and religious practice.

I want to talk about living.

Then, when she was 38, she married Bruce, the man of her dreams. Bruce shared custody of his three daughters from his first marriage, so Julie happily found herself the dedicated mother of a close-knit family. Bruce was a successful professional. They lived comfortably in a big house in an upscale suburb. For ten years, Julie was living her dream.

On a wintery morning in 2009, the dream abruptly ended. Bruce, 48 years old, fell down stairs and hit his head. He died almost immediately.

The shock of her husband’s death was followed by another shock. Of his three life insurance policies, he had let two of them lapse. This included the largest policy, which would have supported his three daughters. Bruce had also neglected to write a will, and to change the beneficiary of his retirement accounts after his first wife divorced him.

By law, half of the large house and Bruce’s other assets should have gone to his first wife, but she and her daughters sued Julie and managed to get 100%, leaving Julie with nothing. Even worse, she turned Bruce’s daughters against Julie. Almost overnight, Julie lost her husband, her close-knit family, her house, and her financial security.

Naturally, Julie felt angry and resentful. “Throughout the entire two and a half years of litigation,” she recalls, “I knew I needed to plug the anger and resentment. At the same time I didn’t want to. I wanted to wallow in my misery. I wanted to make others miserable along with me.

-Sara Yoheved Rigler
“The Power of Gratitude”

I probably wouldn’t have written today’s mediation this way if Rachelle Dawson hadn’t made the following comment on yesterday’s morning meditation:

Making a list of all the sins and faults I’ve been forgiven helps me to put things back in perspective. If I have been forgiven so much, it shouldn’t be such a big thing to show compassion and mercy to others. Anything I give pales in comparison to the compassion I’ve received.

Sara Rigler’s full article is too long to quote here in its entirety, so I encourage you to click the link I provided above and read all of its content. However, what I’m suggesting is that, in emulating great people, we might not always choose people who hold a lofty position in academia or in the clergy. We might instead, find our inspiration in a middle-aged, deaf Jewish woman who has been divorced, widowed, who has lost her home and her job, her once-loving step-children, and who has struggled to find anything at all to be grateful for.

Julie realized that she was standing at a crossroads. She could spend the rest of her life in anger and bitterness or she could choose to grateful and happy. “I decided that I needed to find a way back to my former, positive self, “ she explains. “So I started to practice gratitude as an antidote to my anger.”

We learn from Rigler’s article that the 19th century Rabbi Natan of Breslov taught that complaining about a problem seems to perpetuate your suffering while thanking God for everything, including the problem from which you’re suffering, seems to make the problem vanish.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. –Pirkei Avot 4:1

While naturally, we should seek to be like those wise and righteous people who came before us; like Paul, Peter, and most of all, like our Master and Teacher Jesus, we may find, if we’re paying attention, that wise, thoughtful, and compassionate people are all around us. Often, they’re the ones who have suffered the most and yet continually thank God for many things.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought. -Matsuo Basho

Seek gratitude.

One thought on “Grateful Footsteps”

  1. I know it’s sort of “poor form” to comment on one’s own blog post unless responding to a previous commentator, but I just wanted to say “thanks” to the folks to clicked the “Like” button for today’s (and any other day’s) “meditation.” I also know that some people follow my blog and I don’t often follow back. That’s not to say that your blogs aren’t interesting and worthwhile (I do pop in and visit them, even if I’m not following), but I’ve got a limited amount of time and sadly, can’t read more than a few blogs on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I appreciate everyone who visits.

    Thank you and blessings.

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