Tag Archives: grateful

Gratitude as a Prayer

“I am grateful to my Creator.”

People who have resolved to repeat this for five minutes a day for an entire month have found the tremendously positive impact that this exercise will have on all aspects of their life.

This is one of the most important messages you can tell yourself.

Living with this gratitude elevates you. You become a more spiritual person. You become a more joyful person. You become a kinder and more compassionate person. You become a calmer and more peaceful person. You become a person who lives in greater harmony with others.

Right this moment, imagine the joy you would feel if you were to feel an intense sense of gratitude to your Creator. Allow yourself to begin to feel some of this now.

In what ways might your envy of others be similar to this?

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

gratitudeI posted this to Facebook the other day by way of inspiration but then I got to thinking. Since I don’t have much of a liturgical prayer life and there’s always a question of how or if one should adapt the Jewish siddur for Gentile use, what if I could make one out of “neutral” elements adapted from Jewish practice.

It would seem that Rabbi Pliskin’s suggestion of expressing gratitude to the Almighty for a meager five minutes per day would be a good place to start. After all, the goal here is to draw closer to Hashem, not to simply go through a set of words and rituals by rote.

Stating what you’re grateful to Hashem for, regardless of what you happen to be going through in life at that point, reminds each of us (especially me) that no matter how difficult you have it, there are always reasons to express gratitude.

I launched this blogspot over six years ago with a brief commentary on the Modeh Ani or the morning blessing said by observant Jews the moment they awaken. It’s the only “Jewish” blessing I have continually recited over the years and I see no reason for a non-Jew not to be grateful for the gift of life and to thank Hashem for another day.

I suspect we all have our own personal “rituals” anyway, so why not make the most of them? We don’t have to be Jewish to be children of God and in fact, all of humanity was created in Hashem’s image.

Being human is something special and each one of us, Jew and Gentile alike, is precious in His sight. It is true that Israel holds an especially cherished place in Hashem’s “heart,” but that doesn’t make the rest of us chopped liver, so to speak.

Hashem didn’t have to offer redemption to the nations through the faithfulness of Rav Yeshua, but He did. In my own personal zeal to reverse the arrogance of the Church in believing only they possess the Keys to the Kingdom, and that only they have the power to offer them to Jews by first requiring Jewish people to renounce their covenant with Hashem and convert to ham-eating Christians, I tend to overcompensate in the opposite direction. Certainly there’s a middle ground.

Modeh AniI know this mirrors many other blog posts I’ve made here, but writing at “Morning Meditations” isn’t about presenting new revelations and insights so much as sharing what’s going on in my head and heart on any given day as I proceed on my walk with Hashem.

This morning for the first five minutes of my commute to work, I recalled what I was grateful to Hashem for. That’s not easy while driving, but then again, it’s not impossible, either. I hope that by day thirty, I’ll be a lot better at being grateful than I am today. Hopefully, this will become part of the practice of a lifetime.

You Gave Us Messiah But Not The Torah: Dayeinu!

Dayeinu is one of the highlights of Seder experience. The tune is catchy but the words and theme are frankly bizarre. Had you taken us from Egypt but not split the sea, dayeinu, it would have been enough. Really?

If you had taken us to Mount Sinai but not given us the Torah, dayeinu, it would have been enough. Really? Don’t we talk about how the Torah is the air that we breathe, indispensable to our lives and to our very existence? Had He given us the Torah but not brought us into Israel it would have been enough. Really? Wasn’t Israel created before the world because it, the Jewish people and Torah and the three pillars upon which the world is built?

-Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
“It Would Have Been Enough, Really?”

I have to admit, as many times as I’ve recited or sung Dayeinu, I’ve never considered the idea if stopping short of completing all the miracles Hashem did for the Children of Israel in the Exodus would indeed have been sufficient. What if God liberated Israel from Egypt but had not split the sea? That would have been a disaster.

As Rabbi Goldberg says, for religious Jews, the Torah is the very air they breathe, and the Land of Israel was promised to the Jewish people long before they were enslaved in Egypt. How could these things not come to pass as God declared they would? How can we imagine the Jewish people without the Torah or Israel?

But what about the rest of us?

Mount SinaiI know what you’re thinking, some of you anyway. You’re thinking about the Mixed Multitude, that ragtag group of non-Israelites who accompanied the Children of Israel out of Egypt because they saw Hashem’s miracles and believed, or at least they thought this guy Moses could give them a “get out of slavery free” card, too.

You’re thinking that these Gentiles stood with Israel at Sinai and received the Torah along with God’s special and chosen people, and thus, what was done for Israel was done for Gentiles as well.

Well, yes and no.

The “Mixed Multitude” link I posted a few paragraphs above goes into it in more detail, but these Gentiles, or rather their descendants after the third generation, were fully assimilated and intermarried into Israel and the tribes, so all traces of their Gentile lineage was lost.

That practice isn’t available to non-Jews who want to join themselves to Israel today. The best we can do is either become Noahides or convert to Judaism. For those of us to call ourselves “Messianic Gentiles” or Talmidei Yeshua, a third option is to specifically accept a highly specialized understanding of the revelation of Yeshua (Jesus) as Moshiach (Messiah or “Christ”) while taking upon ourselves a lesser set of obligations than the Jewish people, and while standing alongside Israel and embracing her central role in Hashem’s plan for ultimate, worldwide redemption in the Messianic Kingdom.

Which brings me back to Dayeinu. What if God had given us the blessings of Messiah but not given us the Torah…Dayeinu…it would be sufficient.

But God did allow us, through His magnificent grace and the mercy of Messiah, to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant promises but not the full obligation to the Torah mitzvot? Is that really sufficient?

Depends on your point of view.

Back in the days when I was attending a little, local Baptist church, more than once in Sunday school, I heard the teacher thankfully remark how grateful he was to not be “under the Law” and enslaved to all those spiritless rituals and practices.

sefer torahActually, he said he was grateful to “no longer be under the Law”. I’ve always wondered what Christians mean by that, since Gentiles are not born into a covenant relationship with God, and particularly not under the Sinai covenant, thus, we were never, ever “under the Law” to begin with.

I tried to argue the other side of the coin, so to speak, relative to the Jewish people, but this was a Sunday school class in a Baptist church in Idaho, so I certainly wasn’t going to convince anyone that the Torah could be “the very air Jews breathe, indispensable to their lives and to their very existence.”

There’s a reason I don’t go to church anymore.

I had considered using the “Dayeinu” message to explain that even though we non-Jews were not given the Torah as such, it would be sufficient, but then, I encountered a problem in Rabbi Goldberg’s article:

Rabbi Nachman Cohen in his Historical Haggada offers a fantastic insight. If you look at the Torah and in Psalms, chapter 106 in particular, you will notice that every stanza of dayeinu corresponds with an incredibly gracious act God did for us and our absolute ungrateful response.

Explains Rabbi Nachman Cohen, dayeinu is our reflecting on our history and repairing the lack of gratitude we exhibited in the past. Seder night we look back on our national history, we review our story and we identify those moments, those gifts from God that we failed to say thank you for. We rectify and repair our ingratitude and thanklessness through the years by saying dayeinu now. In truth, dayeinu, each of these things was enough to be exceedingly grateful for.

R. Goldberg uses examples such God taking the Israelites out of Egypt and them not being grateful (Deut. 1:27) and God feeding them with manna and them not being grateful (Numbers 11:1-6). Dayeinu then, as R. Goldberg explained above, is the Jewish effort to repair the historic lack of gratitude of the Israelites to God’s miracles during the Exodus. It’s a lesson to every Jewish child at the Passover seder to learn gratitude for all that God has done, does, and will do for Israel.

So how can I use Dayeinu as an example of it being sufficient for we Gentiles to have the blessings of the New Covenant (without being named covenant members) and not receiving the Torah or the Land of Israel along with the Jews?

humilityI do it by turning things around. I do it by pointing out our own ingratitude. A small but vocal group of non-Jews do not accept that only the Jewish people are Israel, and that only the Jewish people have it placed upon themselves as named members of just about every covenant God has ever made with human beings, the full obligation and blessings of the Torah mitzvot. They not only desire but demand full inclusion into Israel, and full obligation to the mitzvot, effectively becoming Jewish converts without a bris.

I should point out that many normative Christians, who couldn’t care less about the Torah, still believe that when Jesus returns, the Church will inherit the Land of Israel and all of the covenant promises God made with the Jewish people. The Jews however, unless they convert to (Gentile) Christianity, not so much. That’s also a lack of gratitude and humility.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 (NASB)

It is better to take the seat for the least honored and then perhaps be given more honors, than to assume you have the greatest honor and to be publicly “demoted” and thus humiliated by your “host,” that is, Messiah.

In this case, us not being Jews, and not being Israel, it really is better to say “Dayeinu,” believe that what we have is truly sufficient, and if God wants to give us more, He’ll give us more. He’ll give, but we don’t presume to just take.

Ben Zoma says, “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.”

-Talmud — Pirkei Avot 4:1

PassoverIt is a terrible thing to turn up your nose at the blessings and mercy of God and to demand more. We’ve seen the consequences to the Children of Israel in the Torah when they were ungrateful. If they are the natural branches of the root and could still be removed for lack of trust, how much easier is it for God to remove the ungrateful grafted in branches?

My family will be having our own wee home seder this coming Friday. While my Jewish family will be singing Dayeinu in the spirit of learning gratitude as R. Goldberg describes it, I’ll be learning to be grateful in a very different way, by accepting that what God has done for me, a non-Jew, a non-covenant member, is indeed not just sufficient, but abundant.


39 Days: I’m Alive and Doing Fine

If you feel discouraged about lack of progress in Torah study or spiritual growth, look back a few years and see how much you have grown from when you began. (Pachad Yitzchok, Igros Uksovim, p.218)

This experiential proof will supply you with an indisputable refutation to the premise that you cannot grow. Since you already have progressed, you have a good basis for believing that you can continue to improve.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #644, Experiential Proof of Progress”

On the other hand, I just got done quoting Yoda when he said, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” I’m still trying to decide whether or not what I already know is a good or bad thing relative to reconciling with church and traditional Christianity. If I, as Rabbi Pliskin suggests, review my history in order to see my growth in response to my current discouragement and frustration, will that necessarily lead to the correct path for me?

Of course, Rabbi Pliskin also writes:

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz used to say that studying mussar (ethical writings) properly does not prevent one from being happy. Just the opposite, the proper study of mussar speaks to the soul. A person begins to identify with his soul and acquires a greater awareness of his Creator. He becomes enlightened, which brings true joy.

Sadness comes from not being satisfied with your present level of behavior, but still not wanting to work on improving. When someone sincerely strives to improve himself, he will feel joy.

“Sadness comes from not being satisfied with your present level of behavior, but still not wanting to work on improving.” So I don’t want to change. That goes without saying. No one wants to change. I suppose only my presumptive arrogance made me believe that church would change for me rather than the other way around. But Rabbi Pliskin is talking about joy and happiness as if they are the goals of a relationship with God. Are they? For that matter, is the goal to have a relationship with God the same or even necessarily compatible with the goal of having a relationship with other Christians?

I go to services, try to sing the Christian hymns (I sing like a frog), put money in the little plate when it is passed around, listen to uplifting Christian music, listen to a scripture reading, listen to a sermon. It’s pretty typical Christian fare but it’s not particularly “me.” But I wonder if being in community is all about being who you are but rather who the community needs you to be?

This thing is too new for me to have any idea what the community needs that would be uniquely within my skill sets to provide. I keep getting the feeling that everyone is waiting for me to do something before the ice breaks and I can get “in,” but I have no idea what that something is. I feel like I’m waiting too, but I don’t know what for.

Although I’m writing this ahead of time, I plan to press the “Publish” button on Thanksgiving morning (my parents will be here for the holiday and so I won’t have much time to write while they’re here). I’ve been thinking if I should somehow include a “thanks” component to this missive. Given that a lot of what I create could be interpreted as complaining, maybe cultivating a bit of gratitude wouldn’t hurt.

Last year we were at a hotel next to the Ramon crater in Israel. I was standing at the edge of the crater at sunset, watching the light bathe the red rocks with an ethereal glow. It looked like the world must have looked like at the beginning of time; just the Creator and the space to create a crater. The horizon melted into the earth as the night began to fall.

Then someone a few steps away from me said loudly into her phone, “There’s nothing to do here! I am bored out of my mind.”

How do we break free from the ‘there’s-nothing-to-see-here’ syndrome?

-Sara Debbie Gutfreund
“Five Ways to Be Grateful”

Modeh AniYou can click the link I just provided to read all of Gutfreund’s article, but I’ll include just one of her five ways to be grateful:

“I have what I need.” This is a blessing we say every morning: Thank You for providing me with everything that I need. But how many of us really mean it? On the days that I think about the words carefully, I am astounded by their truth. God provides me with my every need, with each part of my life designed to enable me to grow and give and fulfill my purpose in this world. I may want a hundred other things. But those are wants, not needs. Don’t make your wants into needs.

This one particularly struck me because my very first meditation for this blog was based on the modeh ani blessing, which I still recite every morning when I first wake up:

“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King
for restoring my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness.”

Like most blessings, you only get out of it what you put into it, and as I’m still quite groggy when I first wake up, often having been jolted awake by the sound of the alarm, I’m not sure how much gratitude I am really feeling or expressing.

But what about church, anyway?

Am I grateful to be there?

Well, they haven’t thrown me out yet, so I’m grateful for that. Sometimes I’m grateful when I get back to my car after services and Sunday school are over, because I tend to find social events among a group of people I don’t know to require a lot of energy. Often, I need to go off, have lunch, and recharge my emotional batteries afterward.

But maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Gutfreund writes another “thanksgiving” related article called 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, and although her focus is on marriage, I think her list of dysfunctions could apply to my approach to church as well. Here’s the list without the accompanying commentary:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

Actually, Gutfreund is applying principles from Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable to marriage, so I’m applying a metaphor of a metaphor onto my relationship with church. It should be interesting.

Gutfreund writes:

“You know that you two are complete opposites, right?” my rabbi said to us two weeks before our wedding. My future husband and I looked at each other. We hadn’t really thought about it. But now that he’d pointed it out, I could see there were some minor differences between us. My fiance was laid back. I was intense. He was a logical and concrete thinker. I was the abstract, creative type. I loved the city. He loved the country. But so what?

“And the two of you will make a great team – not despite, but because of your differences. The Torah is made of black letters against a white page. Without the white, you can’t see the black letters. And without the letters, the white has no content. Do you see what I mean?” We nodded, but I’m not sure either one of us completely understood.

“As long as you appreciate each other’s personalities, you’ll be okay. Focus on how each of your unique personalities contributes toward your shared goals. Don’t tolerate. Appreciate.”

However, in any romantic relationship, there is an attraction and a bond that has to be established before the relationship gets to the point of struggling with the differences and then learning to appreciate them. You usually have a young couple who, for whatever reason, find each other initially but superficially (how much can you know about someone just by looking at them) attractive. The attraction is enough to inspire some sort of “first contact.” There’s a conversation. Perhaps a few pleasant sparks fly. There are meetings, dates, encounters, all of which continue to strengthen the bond. Whatever differences that exist between the couple are temporarily beside the point as romantic love and the first stages of what you might call commitment begin to form.

Can I apply that to church? After all, so far I’ve noticed mostly differences and few similarities.

Really, I approached going back to church with the same emotional enthusiasm as a root canal: necessary, but to be avoided if at all possible. I went back to church as a perceived necessity and a duty, not because I was falling in love with church.

Have you ever fulfilled a mitzvot (I guess this question can only apply to Jews by definition) that you performed out of a sense of duty but not love?

Surprisingly, over 10% of the 271 mitzvot that are applicable in our times require consciously choosing our thoughts and feelings. For example, the mitzvah not to harbor hatred in one’s heart toward another person [Lev. 19:18] means that even if you were treated shabbily by your erstwhile friend, you are not supposed to nurse any grievance in your heart. But how is the aggrieved party able to accomplish this feat when his iPod shuffle mind is blaring the “She Hurt Me Blues”? He can drown out that destructive tune with the oldie-but-goodies “She’s Doing the Best She Can With What She Has,” “I Can Rise Above This” and “I Forgave Her, God, So Please Forgive Me.”

-Sara Yoheved Rigler
“The iPod Shuffle: The Zen of Judaism”

Is engaging in religious community a mitzvot; a commandment of God?

Apparently not, at least not in so many words. That is, a quick Google search doesn’t seem to yield a specific scripture that says, “Thou shalt meet with thy brethren weekly,” or something like that. I did find the usual, “Don’t go to church, be the church,” but that’s a platitude or principle, not something that God specifically said to us. Also, and I’ve mentioned this before, I can hardly take a commandment directed specifically at the Jews and somehow magically apply it to Christianity, unless there’s a very clear trail of connections leading from Torah to the commandments of Messiah to the Gentile disciples.

I’m not saying that community is a bad idea, I’m just asking if it’s a mitzvah, a commandment, an act of kindness and charity in the service of God? Does anybody know?

If it is, should I approach a mitzvah with reluctance (and remember, Christians can’t actually fulfill the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews)?

Or thanksgiving?

My general belief system tells me I should believe the latter. That any opportunity to serve God, assuming going to church is serving God, should be done with joy and gratitude. After all, it’s a tremendous honor to serve the Creator of the Universe, the King of all existence. Don’t even the angels sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty?”

Beyond all of my internal debates and struggles (which are almost always externalized here), this is what I’m looking for:

When a parent loves a child,

he stoops down to the child, with such love,
he leaves his language to speak the language of the child,
he leaves his place to play the games of the child,
he leaves his entire world and all the maturity he has gained in thirty, forty years or more to become excited, sincerely excited, by those things that excite the child, to react as the child reacts, to live with the child in the child’s world with all his being…

So too, G‑d feels our pain and our joy. He lives intimately with us in our world. Yet He is infinite, beyond all things—even as He is here with us.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“G-d Involved”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Being grateful doesn’t require a perfect life, or a perfect world, or a perfect gift. It doesn’t even require a perfect church or a perfect synagogue. While the writings of the Chabad bring me great comfort and even occasionally joy, I am abundantly aware, at least based on Shmarya Rosenberg’s record of experiences with the Chabad and Orthodox Judaism, that they aren’t a perfect community, either.

Gratitude doesn’t require perfection, it doesn’t even require satisfaction of wants and needs. It just requires an awareness of God and what He has done, including His allowing us to be alive. There’s a blessing that is said by observant Jews at certain special occasions:

O Lord our God, King of the universe
who has kept us in life, sustained us and brought us to this season.

Interestingly enough, a man named Les Emmerson wrote a song over forty years ago called Signs that says something quite similar:

And the sign said everybody welcome, come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all,
I didn’t have a penny to pay,
so I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Return and Reconciliation

“We will thank You and declare Your praise for our lives, which are entrusted into Your hand; for our souls, which are placed in Your Charge; for Your miracles which are with us every day; and for Your wonders and favors at all times, evening, morning, and midday.”

Thanksgiving blessing
Shaharit for Shabbat
Koren Siddur, pg 488

I once heard it said, “Coincidences are miracles in which God prefers to remain anonymous.”

If we were to carefully scrutinize everything that occurs in our daily lives, we would find many such “coincidences.” Sometimes we may not be aware of the significance of a particular occurrence until much later, when we may have forgotten how or why we think it occurred, and so we just write it off to chance. Other times, we notice that things seem to “just happen at the right time.” And in some instances, the likelihood of the desired occurrence being chance is statistically so remote that it may penetrate the skepticism of even the most confirmed non-believer.

Why don’t people see the Divine hand in so many things? Could it be that being aware would require them to be thankful to God, because it is unconscionable to be an ingrate (and if one has difficulty with feelings of gratitude, it is simply easier to deny the awareness of the Divine favor)? Could it be that the awareness that God is looking after them would obligate them to live according to the Divine will, and since that might entail some inconveniences and restrictions on their behavior, it is more comfortable to believe that “God does not care”?

Psychologists have great respect for the human capacity to rationalize, to convince oneself of the absolute truth of whatever it is that one wishes to believe or not believe. How much wiser we would be to divest ourselves of such self-deceptions.

Today I shall…

scrutinize my daily happenings with an alertness to how many favorable “coincidences” have occurred in my life.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 8”

You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145:16 (ESV)

It’s not just the miracles, signs, and wonders for which we should thank and praise God, but for every good thing we experience in our lives. As Rabbi Twerski said, those events we consider “coincidences” are most likely also from God, and even if they aren’t, we should thank Him anyway, for the very fact that we are alive to encounter all goodness.

Of course, we’re also alive to encounter “all badness,” too.

I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things. –Isaiah 45:7 (ESV)

The word that the ESV translates as “calamity” is translated as “evil” by the King James Bible, the American Standard Version, and the Barby Bible Translation, to name a few. Not a comforting thought, but if God is to be considered sovereign over all, then He must create all.

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)

Paul doesn’t say to give thanks to God only when things go your way and God gives you what you want and need, does he? That’s the tough part. We are always ready to thank God when good things happen, but true faith and trust thanks in all circumstances, good and bad alike. Being thankful doesn’t happen just when you’re happy and satisfied, but at all times, because good and bad both come from God, in all circumstances, God is with us.

I know. I must be crazy, right? I mean, who can thank God when disaster and calamity strike? Only a saint or a fool (or are they the same thing?). Not too long ago, I talked about trusting God, not just in good times or bad, but in uncertain times; during events or when pondering mysteries that you aren’t very sure about. Who is God? What is salvation? When we pray, is God listening?

Rabbi Twerski recommends “scrutinizing your daily happenings with an alertness to how many favorable “coincidences” have occurred in your lives.” I don’t necessarily disagree with this practice because it helps make us aware of all of the good God does for us that we take for granted, but that’s not the end of it. In every bad time, in every time of uncertainty or doubt, even when doubting God, give thanks that He remains with you and with me. Give thanks that, unlike a human being, He won’t abandon us or doubt us, just because we sometimes doubt Him and at least temporarily, withdraw from His presence. He is not like a person. He’s not like us, and for that, we should be infinitely grateful.

It is ridiculous how some people are concerned about trivial aspects of “honor.” For example, a person may refuse to visit a friend or relative, because they feel the other person should come to him first. Or they become angry if they visit someone and that person does not repay the visit.

Focus on being practical. If you would like to speak to someone, what does it matter if he did not come to you first?

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Today’s Daily Lift #559

As long as we’re thanking God for his faithfulness when we are faithless, we might as well take the next step and try to emulate Him just a bit. If there is a friend or family member who we have refused to speak with or visit because of our pride or a matter of “honor,” consider how God is not affected by how we’ve offended Him and remains with us, even in our most foul and dark moods. In the month of Elul, observant Jews make an effort to repair damaged friendships and to overcome the emotional barriers that have caused these rifts.

“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

-Lady Dorothy Nevill, British writer

You can do this, too. You can extend yourself in humility and in gratefulness to God and approach an estranged loved one. Remember, God is always waiting for you to return to Him as well.

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.