Tag Archives: gratitude

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
Aish.com

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.

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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?”
Aish.com

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.

Dayeinu!

Ki Teitzei: Fulfilling Gratitude

waiting-for-mannaThere is an old joke illustrating the difference between a believer and an atheist:

The believer wakes up, looks up to heaven, and with heartfelt devotion and true gratitude exclaims, “Good morning, G‑d!”

The atheist, by contrast, rolls over one last time, yawns and stretches, strolls over to the window, looks outside and declares, “My G‑d, what a morning!”

-Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum
“Keep the Faith”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Teitzei
Chabad.org

The very first blog I posted here is called Abundant is Your Faithfulness. When I originally created my “meditations” blog, I based it on something written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman:

When you get up in the morning, let the world wait. Defy it a little. First learn something to inspire you. Take a few moments to meditate upon it. And then you may plunge ahead into the darkness, full of light with which to illuminate it.

I wanted my writing to be something people could read in the morning shortly after waking up and then ponder on throughout the day. I’ll admit to a little “mission drift” in the over two-and-a-half years this blog has been in existence, but this has always been my intent.

But you don’t have to wait until you get out of bed and make it to your computer to find something inspiring. As Rabbi Greenbaum says in his commentary, observant Jews start meditating on God even before they get up by reciting the Modeh Ani:

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

I mentioned to a friend just recently that the wedding vow is the only vow Christians take before God anymore. Most people, including most Christians, probably don’t realize it, but when you say “for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, til death do us part,” we are actually taking a solemn vow in the presence of God that these words we will keep with our actions.

And yet the divorce rate in the church is virtually the same as in the secular world. As human beings, we do a lousy job of keeping our vows to God…we can’t even keep the one left that we’re supposed to take seriously. I guess that’s why Jesus said this:

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”

Matthew 5:33-37 (NASB)

But apart from vows, just how seriously do we take what we say to God? Are we too casual in our “conversations” with Him? Does it matter that we’re addressing not only a King, but literally the Creator of everything?

Referring to the Modeh Ani, Rabbi Greenbaum says:

We acknowledge our Creator and thank Him for the gift of a new day. By starting off the day full of humility and gratitude, we pledge to live up to G‑d’s vision for the world.

But, I ask you: once you’ve rolled off the bed and rubbed the sleep from your eyes, how much of the Modeh Ani do you take with you? So you spent eight seconds admitting that you owe your life to G‑d. Does that really affect the rest of the day?

Modeh-AniI recite the Modeh Ani when I wake up each morning, but I must admit, Rabbi Greenbaum gave me something new to think about. Just how much of my “thankfulness” do I carry forward into each day? How many Monday’s have I complained about when my alarm goes off, rousing me out of that last moment of “the weekend?” I can hardly add to what Rabbi Greenbaum reveals to his audience, including me, so I’ll let him finish his commentary:

The Torah advises us to “fulfill the utterances of our lips.” (Deuteronomy 23:24) Ostensibly an injunction to pay up our pledges to charity and to live up to our vows, the verse can be homiletically rendered as a directive to listen and learn from the words said while praying. It is too easy to just go through the motions, letting the familiar words roll off the tongue and into oblivion; however, G‑d wants prayer to be more than mere lip service.

The words we say must mean something. Prayer is not just dead time spent mindlessly repeating a monotonous mantra, but a unique opportunity to communicate with the divine. When we train our children to say the Modeh Ani first thing after rising, it is in the hope that the feelings and emotions encapsulated in the prayer will permeate the days of their life.

G‑d demands that we fulfill our pledges and live up to our promises. Each morning we acknowledge our Creator as King, and thank Him for gifting us with our soul again. We approach the rest of the day with the enthusiasm and knowledge that we are following the route suggested in G‑d’s guidebook. We will fulfill the oaths we made to Him, and live by our promises, for now and forever.

As Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski might say in one of his Growing Each Day commentaries…

Today I shall…

…seek to fill full all of the words I speak to God with sincerity and to carry them forward with me in each day, from morning until evening, with thanksgiving and gratitude.

Good Shabbos.

40 days.

Gratitude

gratitudeAs an exercise, make a list of the ideas you regularly espouse, along with the original sources you heard them from. Think of people who gave you wisdom for living. Did a friend set you straight on something? Your brother saved you from doing some stupid things? An employer gave you good career advice?

Acknowledge that you received the gift. If someone took the blinders off your eyes, it’s fantastic, it’s a different life. Say to yourself: “I am now aware of something very important that I wasn’t paying attention to.” Say it out loud. That alone will make you feel genuine appreciation.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Way #50: Rewards of Gratitude”
Aish.com

If you ask a Christian who they are grateful to more than anyone, you’ll probably hear “Jesus” nine times out of ten, and rightfully so. Without the grace of the Jewish Messiah and our faith in God through him, we people among the nations would have no connection to the Almighty and His mercy. But Jesus doesn’t exist in isolation. He’s the Jewish Messiah, which Christians sometimes miss. Even when we know that intellectually, we don’t always fully appreciate what it means that he is the Jewish Messiah, the promised Savior of Israel.

I’ve probably said all this before, but in reading Rabbi Weinberg’s commentary, the topic resurfaced for me. Some truths are best restated periodically just to make sure they stay fresh in everyone’s mind.

Make a list of society’s treasures – monotheism, justice for all, universal education, dignity of the individual, preciousness of life. These core values of the civilized world are all from the Torah.

Before the Torah was given, people built their lives on a subjective concept of right and wrong. Then at Mount Sinai, human history underwent a dynamic shift. People understood that there is one God who has moral expectations. You can’t just live as you please; there is a higher authority you are accountable to.

Despite the fact that Jews were never more than a tiny fraction of the world’s population, these ideas became the basis for the civilized world. For example, do you know the source of the idea “Love your neighbor as yourself”?

It’s in the Five Books of Moses – Leviticus 19:18.

The Jewish people are an eminent firm, 3,500 years old. We are no fly-by-night. The world uses our products under different brand names and takes it for granted. Consider what humanity owes to the Jewish people.

If you are living with Jewish wisdom, know it, quote it, and give credit.

There is nothing in the teachings of Jesus that isn’t “Jewish wisdom.” All of Christ’s “source material” was the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. It’s what he quoted from. It’s what he taught from. It resonated with his Jewish audience because they had been raised on that “source material” all their lives.

Paul taught from that source material too, when teaching Messiah to Jewish and Gentile God-fearing audiences. Acts 13:13-43 is a perfect example of Paul using Jewish history to explain why Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth was the promised Messiah and the Jewish people in the synagogue understood and agreed, at least to the point of inviting Paul and Barnabas back to their synagogue in Pisidian Antioch on the following Shabbat to speak more.

Apostle-PaulEven the Gentiles among the Jews understood because they had been exposed each Shabbat to the teachings from the Torah and so had the basic background that allowed them to follow Paul’s arguments. They understood so well in fact, that they invited practically the whole town (of Gentiles) to hear Paul the following week (which caused problems of their own, but that’s another story).

The only time when “Jewish wisdom” broke down was when Paul and Barnabas addressed a wholly pagan Gentile audience who had absolutely no clue about Judaism and Jewish history. In that case (Acts 14:8-18), Paul had to give the crowd a crash course in Judaism 101 just to keep them from worshiping him and Barnabas as Zeus and Hermes respectively.

I say all this as a reminder (in case anyone’s forgotten) that we would have no understanding of Jesus at all unless we at least minimally understood something about “Jewish wisdom” (and we reject this line of education at our own peril).

More than all, give credit to the Almighty. He gave us a brain to understand and appreciate wisdom. Other teachers enlighten us, but the original teacher is God. He implanted within us the intuition to discover all there is to know about living.

God is showering us with gifts all the time. Food, air, eyes, teeth. Life itself. He programmed us with an antenna for wisdom. Nothing is possible without God.

This should be a no brainer, but it’s more common in Jewish prayer to praise God than in Christian prayer. It’s just my opinion, but I think there’s a definite advantage to praying with a Siddur since the blessings within greatly praise God and thank Him for His mercy and bountifulness. It takes us just a little more concentration to praise God without a prayer book, since the human tendency is to ask for what we want and need (which isn’t bad, except if that’s all we do when we pray).

The problem is that we don’t want to be indebted to Him, so we deny the gifts. We refuse to believe that He loves us.

I know I’ll probably get some static for this, but in a nutshell, I think the Rabbi has given us the reason why many people don’t come to faith. We don’t want to be indebted to Him. We’re afraid of what that means for us, what we’ll have to change about us, how we won’t fit in to the culture, that we’ll realize we aren’t perfect as self-contained human beings.

It’s probably why even a lot of religious people don’t want to thank God, at least not anywhere near as much as He deserves (and face it, He deserves infinite thanks). That may also be why Christians don’t want to thank the Jewish people and Judaism for what we have. We’re afraid of what it will mean. We’re afraid that Jewish people are still part of God’s plan, that He still loves them, maybe more than the Gentile believers. We’re afraid that Israel will be placed at the head of the nations instead of America or Canada or whatever.

raining1We want to be special because we’re Christians, including our particular denomination, branch, or sect. If Jewish Israel was chosen first, they might still be first or at least very special in God’s eyes. What does that do to we Gentiles who are called by His Name (does that make us jealous and covetous of Jews)?

God loving Israel probably does nothing to us except make us just as loved by God as the Jewish people, but also different from them, like two brothers of a King, both loved but both different.

And God loves even those who reject Him and do not want to be called “sons.”

…your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:45 (NASB)

There is no way for the unjust and the unrighteous to acknowledge God and thank Him, but we who are disciples of the Jewish Messiah have no such excuse.

In order to connect with God, you have to learn to appreciate all the good He has done for you. That means giving up the illusion that you alone are responsible for your achievements. It’s all a gift from God. Just as every stroke of Picasso’s brush has his signature on it, everything in this world has God’s signature on it. We have to learn to appreciate it.

Everything in this world has God’s signature on it. Even those people who do not believe, since all human beings have been created in God’s image. We believers know God’s signature is on us. We agreed to that when we acknowledged Messiah and came to faith through the Jewish King.

They asked Rabbi Schneur Zalman:
“Which is greater: love of G‑d,
or love of your fellow man?”

“Love of your fellow man,” he replied.
“For then you are loving the one that your Beloved loves.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Which is Greater”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Rabbi Weinberg’s point is that we should publicly give credit to the source of our blessings. Christians usually have no trouble thanking Jesus for our blessings but as I mentioned, Jesus doesn’t exist apart from his connection to Israel. Messiah descended from Heaven for the lost sheep of Israel. When he returns, he will redeem all Israel and restore her at the head of the nations.

We should also give credit to Israel, to the Torah, to the Prophets, to all the instruments God blessed the Jewish people with, because without Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, without the twelve sons of Israel, without their descendants, without the Davidic Kings, without the Davidic King, Messiah, we would have nothing and be nothing.

Thank you.

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”
Aish.com

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
Chabad.org

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”
Aish.com

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.

I’m Younger Than That Now

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

“It Was a Very Good Year” (1961)
-composed by Ervin Drake

A self-ordained professor’s tongue, too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
Equality, I spoke the word as if a wedding vow
Ahh, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

My Back Pages” (1964)
-composed by Bob Dylan

This is a counterpoint to this morning’s meditation, which had a distinctively forlorn tone and pessimistic outlook. Life can be like that for me sometimes. I suppose it can be like that for some of you on occasion. But something LeVar Burton said on twitter about 1968 made me think back. I actually “misremembered” the famous chorus to Dylan’s tune as, “I was so much younger then, I’m older than that now.”

When I looked up My Back Pages (and I’m probably remembering The Byrds’s cover of the song), I realized my mistake. Then the Drake song, made famous by Frank Sinatra, popped into my head.

That’s more like it. That’s what I was thinking. That’s what I was feeling. I was so much younger then, and it was a very good year.

But this is supposed to be optimistic, isn’t it?

I’m utterly convinced that the key to lifelong success is the regular exercise of a single emotional muscle: gratitude.

People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.

By contrast, people who lack gratitude are never truly happy. If they succeed at a task, they don’t enjoy it. For them, a string of successes is like trying to fill a bucket with a huge leak in the bottom. And failure invariably makes them bitter, angry, and discouraged.

Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to feel more gratitude. Fortunately, gratitude, like most emotions, is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes.

-Geoffrey James
“True Secret to Success (It’s Not What You Think)”
Inc.com

That reminds me of the very first meditation I wrote for this blog, exactly 14 months ago today.

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

Blessing Upon Arising in the Morning

It’s the one Jewish blessing I still allow myself to recite and virtually the first coherent thought I have upon awakening each morning.

I’m grateful to wake up alive.

In his article, Geoffrey James calls gratitude the “secret to success.” He talks about making a list of everything that happened to you during the day that makes you grateful and writing it all down before going to bed. He says that the more you practice gratitude, the more it will become part of your “reprogramming.”

It’s funny, but I think the Jewish sages had that idea long before James wrote his wee article for Inc.com.

Of course, that’s how we learn just about anything, by practicing. I suppose that’s true of being grateful. I suppose that’s true about having a relationship with God. Like any relationship, it takes practice, patience, and lots of attention. You reap the rewards of whatever you put into it. If you practice too little, the rewards are very few.

Both “It Was a Very Good Year” and “My Back Pages” are retrospectives on life. The former song expands the person’s vision across an entire human lifespan while the latter is Dylan’s personal presentation of his disillusionment with the folk protest movement of the early 1960s.

I periodically become aware that there are more days behind me than there are ahead, but I take some comfort in my family, the next generation I see in my children, and the generation beyond that in my grandson.

And I take some comfort in God.

But it’s difficult not to look back and ponder all the youthful wonder and immature anguish, the carefree nights and days and the painful and terrible mistakes. Was I a better person then, or now? What have I learned. Was being seventeen really better? Am I younger or older than that now?

But however it’s all worked out, I haven’t forgotten to be grateful to God. I’m alive. I have a wife and three children. I have a grandson (and I can still hardly believe I’m a grandpa). I’m working. I live comfortably. I’m able to give something back to my community, which is a blessing. Life isn’t perfect, but God has been generous.

And I’m grateful. I should practice that more.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt somehow
Ahh, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

-Dylan

But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

-Drake

How do I feel?

I feel older. But sometimes, when I’m grateful, I feel young.