Friday, November 25, 2011

Grateful for our Blessings - November 25, 2011

"Twins! I'm having twins!".
This is the excitement that we probably would have expected to hear from Rebekah when she realized that she would bear two children and not just one. This news came to her after years of being unable to bear a child. As the two sons-to-be were already involved in a pre-birth wrestling match, Rebekah responded with concern. She said, "Im Kein Lama zeh anochi - if so, why do I exist?" It was as if she was in pain, both emotional and physical. She went to ask God why the twins were in such turmoil, but the Torah hints that she knew from the start that these children would not easily get along. Once God told her that these children would become two distinct nations and peoples, Rebekah likely felt a touch of relief and maybe even joy. She seemed able to accept the reality of the struggle to come, knowing she would do her best to manage the rivalry through her own insight and with God's help.
Life often demands that we accept situations that are less than ideal, challenging us to find blessings around us, the silver lining in the clouds that may seem to hover over us. On this day after Thanksgiving, there is hopefully a lingering attitude of gratitude that is providing us with a positive lens as we consider what we have. Our prayers for Shabbat direct us to give thanks for creation and for the wonders in the world. On Tuesday, following the completion of a meeting I attended in Anthony, I walked out to the sight of an entire rainbow going from northwest to southeast, so I had a perfect vantage point as I looked directly northeast. I pulled out my blackberry and snapped two photos that I later spliced together in a panorama. More importantly, I recited the rainbow blessing of our tradition: Blessed are You, our Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, who remembers the covenant, who is faithful to the covenant, and who keeps the divine word. The right combination of sun, clouds and rain offers us an unmatched gift of color that can inspire us to recognize the many possibilities for goodness and hope in our lives.

In her book Saving Civility, Sara Hacala suggests that being grateful takes practice. We have to constantly adjust our responses so that a mostly empty glass always appears to us as partially full. Hacala cited the case of a minister who visited a member in the hospital whose legs had just been amputated. The woman who had just had this serious surgery told her pastor how much she looked forward to doing many things with her hands. "After I get home, pastor," she said proudly, "I think I will bake you a cake!" Hacala noted that a grateful approach to life fills us with more positive emotions like joy and hope and moves us away from jealousy. Gratitude deepens our connections with each other, strengthens our resilience in the face of challenge, and makes us less lonely.
I don't how many of you took part in the rush of "black Friday." It was sad to hear about a woman at a Walmart in California who sprayed pepper spray at nearby shoppers to keep them away from a display of Xbox video game systems so that she could get one first. The "black" in black Friday may not be the violent acts on the outside but the darkness of jealousy on the inside that prevents some people from being happy with what they have.
Next to that incident in California, Rebekah's reaction to the news of twins seemed much more positive to me. She was going to give birth to two brothers who would achieve greatness and who would eventually find the gratitude that would bring them back together in a memorable reunion. As we consider our blessings, let us always remember that our greatness as individuals and as a community can come from our practice of gratitude that can lead us to honor and appreciate each other and the many gifts we enjoy every day.

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