|Read Rabbi Barras’ Monthly Reflections — “Rav Bar Oz”|
In this space each month, we feature the writings of one of the members of our Beth Am Clergy. This month we invite Rabbi Jaime K. Aklepi to share some thoughts with you. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments.
May it be so
Since the middle of March all of us have had to change our expectations of “normal.” How we worked, how we went to school, how we shopped, how we prayed, how we played, how we celebrated and even how we mourned has changed. Looking back the disappointment so many people felt for changing plans and reservations for Spring Break, seems like an eternity ago. But since then, disappointments, milestones missed and feelings of loss, fear and uncertainty only grew. For the vast majority of us, we have never experienced this worldwide disruption to life, loss and fear brought on by the coronavirus. In truth, we never held the control we thought we did. We have always been vulnerable and the future is always uncertain. This does not render us helpless.
Faith provides us with the fortitude to move forward creating, building, caring, serving. Gratitude lifts us up out of our despair and softens our grief for all that we are missing by acknowledging and recognizing the many blessings still in our lives. There is a balance we need to achieve: permit ourselves to feel the sadness and pain of loss, rescheduled weddings and b’nai mitzvah, graduations and birthday celebrations missed, as well as show gratitude for health, homes, food and fulfillment. For some, separation from routine, boredom or fear can paralyze them, but there is the Jewish answer of gratitude — hakarat hatov — noticing the good, that can help one move forward.
Leah is the first person in the Torah to thank God and teach the lesson of gratitude. After giving birth to her son Judah she says: “This time I will praise Adonai.” [hapa’am odeh et Adonai] Therefore, she named him Judah Yehudah (Genesis 29:35). The name Judah is from the root of the word thanks or praise, seen here as odeh. The commentator Sforno wrote: “Thus, she called his name Yehudah: that there is in this name the letters of YHVH the Glorified (Adonai) and also the language of gratitude.” In one name, the meanings of thanks, God and Yehudi, Jew. We were called Ivrim, Hebrews or Yisrael, Israelites but the word Jew is our identity and giving thanks is reflected in our character.
How does one feel when one’s first conscious thought in the morning is to give thanks. While still in bed we say “Modeh/Modah Ani l’fanecha Melech Chai V’kayam She’che’zarta bi nishmati b’chemla Raba Emunatecha. I offer thanks to You, Living and Eternal Sovereign, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.” Our first thought now becomes focused on what we possess — life, not what we lack. That is the essence of showing gratitude; refocusing on the things we need that we already have.
Rabbi Meir in the Talmud developed the idea that a person should say 100 blessings every day. We say blessings for working body parts, unusual natural sights, things we see or do for the first time, for food, for healing. It is a spiritual practice that increases our sense of awe and reverence and helps us balance our feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty. Since it is not our custom to pray three times per day, getting to 100 prayers a day is difficult to achieve. But what if this summer, we took just a couple of minutes a day, starting with the Modeh Ani — when we wake up — and make a list of the things we are grateful for. Add to the list throughout the day and soon you’ll see anxiety and fear made room for blessings. The death and loss of COVID-19 are real and not to be trivialized. As a community we have been spared much suffering. We continue to support each other and those in need as we pray for an end to the virus, treatment and cure.
May the months of June and July be months of blessings: Blessings of goodness, blessings of joy, peace and kindness, friendship and love, creativity, strength, serenity, fulfilling work and dignity, satisfaction, success, and sustenance, physical health and radiance. May truth and justice guide our acts, and compassion temper our lives that we may blossom as we age and become our sweetest selves.
May it be so. (Marcia Falk)