Friday, June 27, 2008


In a few hours, the Sabbath will descend upon us, hovering over our lives with the protective wings of peace and serenity, at least for twenty-four hours.
The week that has passed continues to fill us with the growing worry, even angst, about the economic future of our country, and of the entire world.
How do we remain grateful in the face of a flood of fear about our wellbeing and that of our loved ones? What role can gratefulness play in our lives as we obsess about how we are going to pay our mortgages or rents, our children’s college tuitions, never mind the plans for summer vacations and other expected luxuries of a life lived amidst luxury and the culture of entitlement?
We rage at our government, OPEC, financial speculators, owners of Hummers as fuel costs reach record highs! Pundits speculate and the authority of the Federal Reserve is fraught with doubt and divination! And the average John Doe is scared, going about one’s business as normally as possible, fighting to resist depression and despair.
Mention of gratitude appears like a bad joke, an act of spiteful insensitivity.
And yet, upon closer consideration, perhaps imminent scarcity can help us gain a greater awareness of our spiritual need to understand life precisely from the vantage point of being grateful for what we are and what we have. Perhaps actual abundance erodes our awareness of how precious a gift our lives are, and only a threat to that reality of plenty can awaken in us a new-found recognition of life’s immeasurable wonder and richness.
Passivity and do-nothing acceptance is not what I advocate; every effort should be undertaken to strengthen and bolster our economic lives. But like all challenges, opportunity arises to enhance our inner and spiritual lives at a time of such crisis.
We hope for a continuous improvement in the financial worlds of our society and in all communities around the world. We pray that hunger and thirst be eradicated in our time. We will do whatever we can to help toward that end.
Let gratefulness help ease our anxiety and personal concerns and let our sense of gratitude spur us onward to reach out and share with the many who need so much more than what we have, even at this time of cutting back and self-deprivation.
Let us learn the lesson of our Sages who asked: “Who is rich?” and answered: “He who is gratefully joyful with his portion.”
Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Working by the waterside is a special source of wonder. I am blessed with the close proximity of my home to the edge of the Hudson River, with the skyline of Manhattan rising above the water's surface.
Early morning hours are the precious gems on the crown of a sun - filled day.I look up and a little girl, perhaps two or three years old, struts angrily ahead of her mother and baby brother. The mother's plea in a foreign language is met with defiant refusal.
Her soft but unhappy eyes meet mine.
"Hi," I say cheerfully. "Your dress is awfully pretty."
Her face softens, the tight defiance starting to seep away into the sunlight.
"What's your name?"
She shrugs her shoulder. Her little brother, too young to speak, is standing in front of me, carefree and smiling. He stares at me wordlessly, curious and playful, eyes lit up with excitement.
I turn my head and the little girl is inching toward me, her outstretched hand bearing a gift, a tiny green weed, a "flower."
I take it from her with effusive thankfulness. She rushes away; a moment later she returns with three tiny sprigs of green. Again I lavish thanks, grateful for her gift of nature's bounty but more so for the smile of self-assurance and innocent joy that returned to her face.
How simple to transform a moment of stubborn sadness into a smile of tender softness.
The path to this transformation was the touch of joyful gratefulness.

Monday, June 23, 2008


It is the morning after a moment of over- whelming grateful- ness. At a farewell brunch, I was regaled with tribute that triggered deep joy along with some self-conscious discomfort. The little synagogue on Hidden Meadow Lane lit up my soul as it did every two weeks for two wonderful years.
A gem tucked away from the sight of most other communities with greater fame and fortune, Kol Ami, sparkles in the sunlight of Annapolis more radiant that the sun glistening off the waves of the Chesapeake Bay. Its luminescence is linked to kindness of heart, clarity of purpose, commitment to community, willingness to work, and an all-embracing sense of gratitude for one another and for a place, a shul, a spiritual home which enfolds them with the warmth, security and sanctity of a love-filled prayer shawl.
For two years I was given a gift of friendship, of gratitude for being a rabbi, the blessing of sharing a spiritual path, that of gratefulness, to a community of Jews and others, eager to touch the divine in life.
How good it is, how fortunate we are, for this lovely little treasure, small in size but infinite in its spirit and love.
Kol Ami-The voice of my people will now become Kol Shalom, the voice of peace. I thank you for your sweet voices of peace and joy, confident that I will hear those echoes always.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


As my eyes scanned the children's faces, my attention was caught by a statement emblazoned on a first grader's tee shirt. The boy is adorable, bright and endearing; the words on his chest were quite the opposite. "Me winning=you whining."Meant to be humorous , it only elicited sadness.
The comment has many implications. An obvious one suggests that to win, another person has to whine, namely the loser. In other words, the world is divided between winners and losers, and winning is impossible without causing pain to others.
From the point of view not of winning but of being grateful for whatever one achieves, there are no losers. Everyone wins if we recognize that each gift received is of great value and comparison, with the expectation of being better or superior or winning, creates consequences of unnecessary hurt and pain. Gratefulness makes us aware of the fact that while competition is often unavoidable, it need not be excrutiatingly painful or the cause of too much discomfort.Gratitude and not winning is the spiritual objective of life. As such, we are blessed only with win-win situations.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


We were sitting in the back seat of a cab. In front of me was a sign that read in part:" Please direct complaints or compliments to the department of..." I thought about this choice as we rode toward our motel. Obviously, if one is dissatisfied with the service or the fare, one should complain.This is fair and a way by which to correct any inappropriate service that the customer or client rightfully deserves. It is also easy to complain, more natural , almost instinctive.
I wondered how many people would call to compliment? I further wondered why they would do so? Of what benefit would it be to them? Can compliments improve service?
Upon closer thought and consideration I came to the conclusion that indeed complimenting can bring rich emotional rewards to both the giver and receiver. To extend gratitude to another human being is to open one's heart and experience the joy of recognizing a gift one has received. The recipient in turn gains the reinforcement of positive , competent and generous activity which insures continued, if not improved , service in the future. The provider fulfills his/her task not out of grudging anger or fear, but rather from a sense of wanting to reciprocate and continue receiving the warmth and gratitude of a satisfied customer. Gratitude spawns growing generosity and effort.
Perhaps if the department of... received more compliments than complaints, eventually service would improve so that both provider and recipient would share in the kindness and good will that all humans are capable of.
While it is easier to complain, perhaps the on-going process of complimenting will alter our response and frame of mind so that gratitude will become the natural part of our being, and not grumbling or complaint. The next time I find myself with the choice, I will call to compliment, not to complain.


Is there any connection between graduation and gradual? To graduate means to complete, to end. The Latin root is gradus, step or stage, suggesting that graduation represents a process of incremental, step by step learning and growth. While growth happens in spurts-witness rapid physical and hormonal growth among pre-teens, or experiences of sudden insight or flashes of awareness, yet to consolidate change and progress toward betterment, many prior moments of learning and awareness, experiments and testing, are necessary.
Progress is essentially painstaking. Human knowledge is one percent revelation and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
I am grateful for the graduation of my son from a master’s program in Philosophy. I am grateful for his accumulated success symbolized by an academic title; more importantly, I am grateful for the myriad steps he took and completed along the journey of acquiring greater human wisdom. Each lecture attended, each paper successfully written, each argument cogently made, each idea more fully understood, each book and essay read and grasped, are all reasons for grateful celebration.
As a major in philosophy, his livelihood is in question. At the same time, the wisdom acquired leaves me confident that his life will be guided by the certainty of intellectual importance and spiritual significance. Beyond my worry for his livelihood is my pride and gratitude for his on-going love of and commitment to the pursuit of wisdom, knowledge and understanding.
Jewish tradition emphasizes that the “best merchandise is Torah !” While one’s physical possessions are subject to theft, no one can rob a human being of one’s thoughts and ideas.

May my son succeed in earning a respectable livelihood. May he never lose sight of the rewards of the mind, heart and soul.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Ruth is the embodiment of gratitude. Unlike Naomi her mother-in-law who is filled with bitterness upon her return to Judea, Ruth is ever loyal, loving and grateful. Naomi proclaims-"Call me Mara (bitterness) for Shaddai has made my lot very bitter. I went away full and the Lord has brought me back empty." Indeed Naomi returns to Judea empty handed, a widow who is childless. All she has is Ruth. But Ruth too accompanies Naomi without anything but her loyalty and love for Naomi. She is a foreigner, a widow, without parents or children. Yet, never do we hear a word of complaint, an outburst of self-pity or bitterness at her new-found God.
Each gesture of kindness toward her or her mother-in-law is greeted with profound gratefulness and humility. Upon receiving special consideration from Boaz, her soon to be husband, she declares:"You are most kind, my lord, to comfort me and to speak gently to your maidservant-though I am not so much as one of your maidservants."
What is the source of her gratefulness? Nothing is evident in the story. All we know is that Ruth lives her life compassionately. Her selfless giving is, I believe, the genesis of a posture of gratefulness. The more she shares the greater her gratitude.
The Talmud insightfully recognizes in her name the source of her spiritual strength. "What is the meaning of Ruth? Rabbi Johanan said: Because she was privileged to be the ancestress of David who saturated the Holy One Blessed be He ,with songs and hymns."Ruth was the great grandmother of King David, the one from whom will emerge the Messiah himself. How radical! How fascinating! The Jewish Messiah will originate from a gentile woman, a widow, a stranger to her newly discovered people and land. Yet, one overriding characteristic made her the ideal ancestor of the Messiah. Her name-Ruth- derived from the Hebrew-"ravoh,"to saturate, to satiate, to fulfill, points to a woman of undiminished gratefulness. Not only did her descendant David saturate God with his Psalms, but Ruth herself saturated God with her experience of grateful "fullness." Her gratefulness and compassion were her gift to God, a gift that pleased and delighted the Almighty beyond all measure.
As we cultivate greater gratefulness in our lives, perhaps this will pave the way for the Messiah's eventual arrival ; we await his coming: let us wait gratefully.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


On Shavuot, the status of teacher is elevated to its highest pinnacle. God, the Giver of the Torah is the Master teacher as well, and the recipients of Torah, the Jewish people, are God's students.
I have just returned from the graduation exercises of my lovely little shul in Annapolis. Simple, genuine and dignified, the ceremony was quite warm and moving. Everyone felt like members of one family and each one experienced the pride of every student's accomplishment as if he/she were everyone's own child.
One remark struck me in a particular way. It was an expression of a teacher who sorrowfully had lost a beloved daughter to cancer only a few short months ago.Yet, devoted as she is to her six and seven year old students, she persisted in teaching with an open mind and a cheerful heart.
"Whenever I teach, I return home happy.(That makes my husband happy, too.)"
What a wonderful criterion for success as a teacher. Not the amount of knowledge one imparts, neither the level of grade; but the feeling of joy that both student and teacher experience as a result of this sacred activity of study.
I wish everyone a joyful festival ,one in which after once again standing on Sinai to receive the Torah ,we return home to our everyday lives happy and joyful.

Friday, June 6, 2008


In the minds of most people, the mention of Torah conjures up an image of an abstract and far away entity, associated with a vague and sombre reference to God, to a distant historic or mythical reality, to something daunting and obtuse. There are rabbinic references that reiterate the sacrifice connected to Torah's acquisition-It depletes our energy; it is appropriated in a state of physical frugality;-"This is the life style of Torah students: Eat a salty crust of bread, ration your drinking water, sleep on the ground, live a life of privation, exhaust yourself in Torah study."(Ethics of the Fathers,6:4)
No fun, right? Yet, I would suggest that the Psalmist, in chapter 119, understands Torah differently-"Were not Your teaching my delight, I would have perished in my affliction."(v.92)
The Hebrew word for delight is "Sha'ashua," which can be translated as "plaything." I dare not suggest that Torah be seen as a toy! But, if understood from the perspective of a child's soul, play and its toys are very serious parts of an individual's experience in growing up into a responsible adult.Psychologists remind us that play for the child is comparable to work for the adult.
Delight is not synonymous with the trivial or frivolous. Torah can be and is a source of infinite spiritual joy , rendering our lives as sources of meaning, worth and inestimable value.
As a child delights in her playthings and creates a world of meaning and purpose, so too are we summoned to engage in Torah so as to create worlds of compassion and goodness which infuse our lives with ultimate importance. Moadim Lesimchah.- May you be privileged to rejoice in the study of Torah on this Festival of Shavuot.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Shavuot, the Festival of weeks to be celebrated in a few days, is known as the season of the Giving of the Torah. In the thinking of Jewish tradition, there is no greater gift than the Torah; it is superior to life itself. Without it, life, Jewish life, is an impossibility. It is the soul of the Jewish people.
However, a gift is incomplete, if not non-existent, if there is no one to receive it. The essence of the gift's meaning is that it is both given and received, that there is a give and take relationship surrounding the act of giving. Israel, the receiver is incomplete without a Giver and a gift; God the Giver cannot fulfill His nature as a Giver unless His gift is received. Thus, the special relationship that is established through the event of revelation, a relationship of gratefulness for giving and receiving.
The origin of the word Torah is twofold; "Or"-light, and "Yaroh," to aim, to focus,to pay attention. thus Torah's overarching function is to shed light, to cast clarity over life, to enlighten hearts and minds. In order to have life emerge as clear and wondrously luminescent, it is necessary to pay attention. Only through mindful attentiveness can we arrive at astonishment.
In essence, I see Torah-also related to the word for teacher and parent-"Moreh," Horeh" -
as a curriculum for the cultivation of compassion. The objective of the Master Teacher-God- is, in the words of the daily prayer, to " graciously teach us... to enlighten our eyes to Your Torah, to help our hearts to cleave to Your mitzvot, to unite our thoughts to love and revere You."
There is a well-known song of the religious Zionist youth movement, B'nai Akiva, whose motto is contained in the following words;"Eretz Yisrael b'lee Torah, ze kemo guf b'lee neshamah"- The Land of Israel. ie. the Jewish people, without the Torah, is comparable to a body without a soul.
May we open our eyes and our hearts to the grandeur of this gift and receive its message of compassion lovingly and gratefully.Hag Sameach.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Over one hundred thousand Jews lined Park Avenue or marched along the middle of the street from fifty –ninth to seventy-ninth streets in New York City. It was a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon, the clear blue of the sky above finding its counterpart in the broad blue stripes of over a hundred thousand Israeli flags being waved proudly and enthusiastically by young and old alike. The sidewalks were virtually impassable, the greatest obstacle being baby carriages by the hundreds.
It was the annual New York extravaganza of Israel’s statehood but perhaps more importantly of Jewish prominence and presence in the greater New York area. Floats, magnificent marching bands of Afro American marchers and dancers, and multitudes of school children, one yeshiva, day school or congregational school grouping after another, a seemingly endless train of colorful T-shirts. Jewish music floating along the heavily tree-lined avenue guarded by the most expensive real estate in America, a picnic, a happening, a time of Jewish pride.
Some are critical of this event; it is too showy; too expensive, it simply provides a fun Sunday for Jews to gather and socialize and feel good about themselves.
As I observed one group after another passing by, letting loose with outbursts of self-congratulations and yet appearing awkward in the presence of so many people, I was engulfed by a myriad of contradictory feelings about the parade. It suddenly occurred to me, almost in the flash of an insightful memory, why I was grateful for this pageant.
The day before, in the small chapel of the synagogue, Shabbat afternoon services were being conducted. It is the custom at the time of the waning hours of Shabbes for memorial prayers to be recited on behalf of the deceased whose anniversary of death is commemorated during the following week.
A couple stood by the reader’s desk. The lay ritual director recited the prayer requesting the name of the deceased at a particular point in the prayer. One prayer was recited; then another. I thought to myself: How odd? Both parents died on the same week.
Another “El Moleh-“ “God of Compassion," the opening words of the prayer of memory. And another. The prayer was repeated almost ten times for the couple standing there. It then became clear. I approached them at the conclusion of the prayers, asking in a supportive and empathic manner-“Your family-victims of the Holocaust?”
“Auschwitz,” came the somber reply.
It was this almost routine-like ritual of an ordinary Sabbath afternoon that made me understand with painful poignancy, the meaning of the Salute to Israel Day Parade.
Especially the baby carriages and the myriads of school children. Israel the land, Israel the people lives. And I am grateful.