Thursday, May 29, 2008


The early morning hours are perfect for prayer, study and poetry.This morning I put down these words after prayer and study. I trust that they will qualify as poetry. I am grateful for them.
At Water's Edge:
In the distance, sweeping skyline of skyscrapers,
In front, lowly , lovely sprigs of green
Nudged by gentle breezes of early morn,
Softly swaying under nestling sunshine-
A moment to make immortal in the heart
So that when breezes burst into storms
blasting away at baby bulbs that
bawl for the caresses of Mother Nature
under a cuddling canopy of clear blue sky,
amid nature's cruelty will be remembered
God's kindness in the smiles of warm sunshine that
splash on earth,
protecting and preserving, a portrait of perfect peace..

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Sounds crazy, no? On the surface, this assertion is entirely irrational. Moreover, as I write these words I struggle to read the words through puffy narrowed eyelids because of bites by swarming gnats on a beautiful day in May.
What, I ask myself, was God’s reason for making the gnats so plentiful and such an awful annoyance to average people like myself who was busily raking his lawn to ready the grounds for the summer season? Besides swollen eyelids and an unending itch that was more than a minor nuisance, what impact did these tiny insects have on human beings that could serve some useful function for which we could be grateful?

As I scratched my skin in desperation, bitterly complaining about the apparent illogic of nature’s many oddities, I remembered a rabbinic comment from early rabbinic literature, the Midrash Rabbah on Genesis:
“Even those creatures that you may look upon as superfluous in the world such as flies, fleas and gnats-they too are part of the entirety of creation. The Holy One effects His purpose through all creatures, even through a frog or a flea.” I would add a “gnat” given the following excerpt from the Midrash: “When a man is worthy, he is told: You preceded the ministering angels. But if not, he is told: The fly preceded you; the gnat preceded you etc. in the work of creation.”
So, as I scratch the many gnat targets on my body, I try to remind myself that they too have a purpose, a very important one at that. After all, we do need to have puffy eyes on occasion especially when our egos become overly swollen, and the gnat is the ideal teacher. Thus, our gratitude for the gnat and the multitude of other little insects that bedevil us so that we can learn greater humility.


This may sound strange coming from a rabbi, but I am really grateful for many inscriptions I encounter as I pass the outside of churches in my neighborhood. Needless to say I, as a Rabbi, do not subscribe to those statements that promote Christianity. However, often I come across words that touch the spiritual life of all people, regardless of formal faith commitments and affiliations.
One in particular resonated with my quest for realities that are rationales for gratefulness.
It read: ”Enjoy little things; there are so many of them.”
Sadly, many of us hold out for the big things, refusing to recognize the joy and meaning contained in the myriad numbers of small things in life. As a matter of fact, I can now hear myself humming a popular tune of the fifties whose title was:”Little things mean a lot.”
Rather than paying attention to the wide array of ordinary things, we take them for granted in such a way that they no longer impress us with their value and significance and as a result, our lives become diminished. Instead of seeing the so much as the bounty of life for which to be infinitely grateful, we greedily await something outside of the ordinary assured that only the acquisition of the rare is a reason to be grateful. Meanwhile, life’s on-going, little gifts of which there are so many pass us by and we experience life as unfulfilling, approaching little things resentfully and unhappily.

So, “enjoy the little things. "In the words of Mary Oliver, “ Pay attention, be astonished …” The greater our sense of gratefulness for little things, the greater will our awareness and experience of joy be when the big thing comes along as well."Who does not thank for little things, will not thank for much." Estonian proverb.


Thank God for science. Some in the fundamentalist camp may consider this statement blasphemous. I believe that the benefits of science are manifestations of godliness in this world.
Once again, I have returned from a visit to my ailing ninety-one year old mother-in –law. For over three months she has lived on “Ensure,” a thick, chocolaty liquid that contains the necessary nutrients for basic human survival. She is, thankfully, still alive. She has diminished in size to just above eighty pounds. Her reason for not being able to eat was explained by her physician as related to severe physical pain due to herniated discs.
In a change of medical diagnosis and procedure, he prescribed a medicine that was designed to alleviate depression and enhance appetite. For the first time in three months, I witnessed my mother-in –law eating a full sandwich, a cookie, and asking for more. As I observed her eating hungrily, I could not but interpret this sight as a minor miracle. A little pill brought this woman back to life. Perhaps the modern meaning of resurrection can be discovered in the power of a pill to reinvigorate a human being back to normal living from a condition of near death.
The pharmaceutical industry has come under heavy attack by those protesting unnecessary exorbitant costs. I can only fully agree with many of these objections. At the same time, we dare not ignore the depth of blessing bestowed upon humanity as a result of years of dedicated research and development by medical scientists the world over.
Today, I remind myself gratefully of the gift of science to all of us. Today, as I watch my wife’s smiles and my father-in-law’s return to a more joyful life, I gratefully express my thanks for living at a time when the miraculous is not an enemy of science but its intimate companion.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Twenty five years ago today my son was born. An every day occurrence in the lives of millions, in hospitals and homes throughout the world, but for me , my wife and family it was an event of a lifetime, a personal miracle and source of wonder, a reason for gratefulness.
Time is so elusive in its meaning.What does the passage of twenty five years mean? In terms of other measurements, a quarter of a century has gone by since that exhilirating moment of miracle! How does this impact the experience of time? Does it shorten or lengthen it?
My son has grown into a wonderful source of joy, pride and gratitude. How can I not be grateful on this day? How can I not rejoice and stand thankful in the Presence of the Source of this gift? The words of the Psalmist are so very appropriate and ring so true today!
I think back but can only catch fleeting glimpses and images of those twenty five years, eight thousand, one hundred and twenty five days, one hundred and thirty five thousand hours of life? So many moments of so many diverse experiences , feelings , worries, expectations, hopes and concerns, celebrations and sadnesses.Each moment a gift, even the difficult ones, all part of the mosaic of life's astonishing reality.
I await another day, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, days that light our way to our destinies and to the realization of dreams. I can only pray that my son be given the gift of many more days and that he fill them with grateful joy. Happy birthday.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I had arrived a few minutes early and before the students rushed into the makeshift synagogue room to conduct morning prayers, I began my review of the daily page of Talmud. As I perused the text, I heard footsteps. Looking up, the custodian was making his way toward the school kitchen located alongside the synagogue-lunch room. We exchanged greetings . "Beautiful day, isn't it?" he exclaimed. It was a gorgeous May day, drenched in sunlight, pleasantly cool and comfortable.
I agreed wholeheartedly with his comment. I went back to the Talmud.
" It's a gift!"
I echoed an assent and was struck by the depth of this casual comment.
I closed my eyes and for a few moments focused on the custodian's final words-"It's a gift."
Today, perhaps because of the beautiful weather, was indeed a gift, as each and every day is a gift, whether the sun is shining or not. We were soon to begin our prayers with the opening words of "Modeh Ani"-I am grateful to You, enduring King, for restoring my soul to me in compassion. How else should a human being start her day if not with an acknowledgment of thanks and gratitude?
Can anyone suggest a better way, a more nurturing or constructive way by which to greet the new day?
I can think of nothing else that is more spiritually and emotionally uplifting and loving than this by which to embark on the journey of life for another 24 hours.
"It's a gift" is an insight that is not reserved for the few, those who are intellectually or socially superior to most. Because the source of gratitude is the human heart, it is the gift of every single human spirit. I am indebted to the school custodian for his invaluable lesson for today, a lesson I try to incorporate in my life every day as today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


As I returned to the entrance of my apartment building, I noticed the sudden absence of color on the sprawling lawn in front of me. For several weeks, I had been greeted with the welcome of brilliant red and yellow tulips bobbing their heads in the wind. As the suns rays cascaded on to their huddled petals, they stretched their arms heavenward and tiny, black gems glistened in the sparkling light. With each sunny day's end, they hid their heads behind enfolding arms to shield their delicate softness against the darkening sky.
Morning's promise prompted a new awakening and petals opened slowly to greet the warmth of another day's sunshine.
And now the bright , bobbing heads had been beheaded by the passage of time and the chilly, wind-swept rains, and all that remains are headless legs, stalks so starkly left behind.
A flash of brilliant color, a bevy of freely given beauty, a fleeting festival of nature's bounty, all gone.
In the overcast morning, I am saddened by the loss. My home is bereft of color. I balk at spring's brevity. I feel like it's fall and summer has as yet, not arrived. Ecclesiastes runs through my mind, a book read in the synagogue not now, but in autumn, when the winter's cold comes so close." A season is set for everything , a time for every experience under heaven...a time for planting", a time for reveling in color and warmth, and a time to witness the uprooting of fragile life.
I have a choice; to mourn the loss of spring's suddenness, or to gratefully rejoice in the gift of glory that was given on loan. I reach for gratitude, the miracle of momentary magic, and the tender traces of spring's tulips remain etched in my mind's gift of recall.


I bought a book of poetry today, RED BIRD, by Mary Oliver. I read a poem and it opened my heart. As the doors of my heart swung open, the light of gratefulness poured in. The poem was a prayer , filling my life with a ravishing moment. I am grateful that this poem, as all her poems, can illumine lives with the blessing of gratitude.
I am grateful for a web site, whose whole purpose is to bring us the gift of gratefulness. Click on to "" and you will be touched by the tender fingertips of gratefulness seekers. I thank them for including my words as well.
A venerable voice of gratitude is that of Brother David Stendl-Rast; his audio-video presentation ," A Good Day", is a glimpse into the godly gift of feeling grateful. Sights of the world's wonders enveloped in the loving sounds of David's melodious words, stir within us the deepest reservoirs of joyful gratefulness.
To imagine life without gratitude is to run up against emptiness and despair. "Modeh ani"-I thank the Source of All things for the most precious of all gifts, the grateful heart.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I am sitting in a vaulted and spacious auditorium at Yeshiva University, joining hundreds of other parents celebrating a child's graduation from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
It was fifty years ago that I last occupied a seat in this domed , arched auditorium , a seventeen year old freshman, far away from home and frightened . Today, I gratefully witness the accomplishment of my daughter, still a little frightened; perhaps worried is a better word for how I feel. After all, a father's joyful love is always tempered with a little worry and concern. No matter the age or achievement, deep down inside one's daughter or son remains a child to worry about.
Today I am grateful for my daughter's independence. In the language of her profession, she is now a self-determining individual-she will now earn her own livelihood!
I am grateful for her success as a student. I am grateful for the knowledge, skills and personal maturity she has gained during the past two years of training and study.
I am grateful for her choice of profession, social work, a commitment that may not make her rich but will undoubtedly enrich the world. She continues on a path of helping, one paved before her by her mother.
I am grateful for the blessing of a gift in the person of a young woman whose caring soul and sensitive spirit will , I believe, make a difference in the lives of others.
"Praise are You...who has kept us alive and enabled us to reach this joyful day, a day of promise and gratitude. " Amen

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Several days ago I met a colleague whom I hadn't seen for a good number of years. Catching up with one another I commented on my current engagement in the exploration of gratefulness as a central practice in Jewish spiritual living. He quipped:
"When anyone asks me how I am , I answer-"I am aging gratefully!"Obviously it was a pun on the popular expression of “Growing old gracefully.”
He added: “ I am using the Sephardic pronunciation!”(In Ashkenazic Hebrew-Hebrew spoken by European Jews, the “S” sound is pronounced as an “S” while in Sephardic Hebrew, that spoken in modern Israel and by those of Middle Eastern extraction, the “S” sound is pronounced as a “T.”
In thinking about our exchange it occurred to me that in fact the notion of growing old gracefully is very much connected to the ability to live one’s life gratefully. The origin of both words, grace and gratitude, is gratis, that is, free and pleasing. When one understands life as a free gift and views it as pleasing and a source of favor, it becomes natural to relate to one’s later years with a thoughtfulness and generosity that reflects a positive and pleasant manner toward all things of life. Being graceful, living joyfully and openly , flows from the perspective of grateful awareness of the blessings inherent in the totality of life.
On this Mother’s Day, as we gratefully celebrate the gift of life given to us by our mothers, we wish our mothers the ability to grow older gracefully and gratefully, grateful for us as their offspring.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I have only just now returned from a ceremony of remembrance in honor of the many young men and women of Israel's Defense Forces who fell in battle during the six wars of Israel's sixty year existence as a sovereign state.
The children of the Gerrard-Berman Solomon Schechter Day School in Oakland ,New Jersey , lit candles, recited prayers and sang songs of memory and hope.

I was left with an indelible impression of gratitude-grateful for the offerings of so many young lives on the altar of Israel's security and honor; grateful for the power of memory by which to sustain an awareness of the gifts of the past and those who made these gifts possible; grateful for young people who are yet willing to remember and not forget, in spite of the pain that permeates such remembering ; grateful for songs that speak to our souls of deep and long standing yearnings for peace.
The following are excerpts of one of those songs.(My free translation from the Hebrew)

"God gave you a gift,
Something wonderful and great
Life on earth,
To appreciate.

He gave you night and day,
Love, hope and dreams,
Summer, winter, autumn and spring,
A soul with which to witness everything .

Fields of green,
Sprouting flowers and trees ,
Skies, moon and stars ,
Rivers, streams and seas

Such beautiful things
To bring to the world,
On children's wings,
With flags unfurled

To listen to songs, to see many hues,
How great are Your works, O Lord,
From which to choose

God, just one more gift,
A small yet wonderful thing
Peace on earth for all,
For ever more
Will I sing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


To get to the synagogue chapel one must cross a room that houses the synagogue nursery school program. Each morning, my eyes alight upon a different colorful crayon drawing of three -year olds.
Several days ago, on my way from morning prayer, I passed a glass cage, it's lights warming some eggs cracking open with the stirrings of little lives, beaks breaking open protective shells like sun rays of day break piercing the long night's darkness. Life was brewing.
I went by that spot again today, and my heart was graced by the vision of six little chicks, yellow puffs of softness, chirping under the watchful and grateful gaze of children and teachers, witnessing the wonder of life.
I commented to the nursery school director: "Perhaps each daily chapel worshiper should first make a pilgrimage to these peepers before our morning prayers."
Perhaps the peep of little chicks is the much needed prologue to make our prayers the songs of gratefulness they should be.
And now, when I begin my prayers, I thank God-"Modeh Ani"-for these little cheepers, chicks who form a squeaky chorus in a dark corner behind the doors of our synagogue chapel.

Monday, May 5, 2008


The approaching celebration of the State of Israel's sixtieth birthday has many obvious reasons for gratefulness, first and foremost among Jews , and among all people everywhere, as well.
After two millenia of homelessness and dispersion, a defenseless people, subject to unremitting prejudice and persecution finally returns to its ancestral home. In the aftermath of the annihilation of one-third of its total population, its succeeds in establishing a democratic society that within sixty years has emerged as the most modern and technologically advanced in the Middle East, and in some areas of endeavour, in the entire world.
In its brief existence, it absorbs millions of disenfranchised and destitute Jews, providing them with homes, education, employment and opportunities for a secure and successful life.
Jewish pride and self confidence are resurrected, and no longer does the Jew cower in fear before his enemies.
In the fields of medicine, the arts, literature, and science , Israel has pioneered new paths and ways of overcoming obstacles of human difficulty and hardship.
It has transformed a neglected backwater country into a place of physical growth, natural blossoming and human achievement.
The Jewish people and the world are grateful, and can comfortably and thankfully celebrate this historic occasion.
Yet, so many problems stand in her way, so many challenges, political, social, economic and moral , stubbornly confront her, leading to consequences of fear, animosity violence and death.
Can one be totally grateful when independence is wrenched from war and conflict? How can we celebrate with a full heart knowing that millions of human beings still regard this time of deliverance as an event of sorrow and shame? Many may be quick to lay blame on Israel's enemies for their own suffering and for not entering into peaceful relationships with their Jewish neighbors? Perhaps they are right! Yet, a review of human history in general and recent Israeli history in particular will bring to light the inescapable conclusion that even in the best of circumstances resulting in justifiable victories for the victim and underdog, fields of human battle are still strewn with the corpses and calamities of countless innocent victims, no matter which side they may be on. Even in victory, morally legitimate and necessary, the agony of war assails the full measure of celebration and rejoicing.
Only a few days ago, our Passover celebration echoed with the words of God admonishing the angels for desiring to sing God's praises while the works of His hands, the hated Egyptians, drowned in the turbulent waters of the Red Sea. Just this past week, we read in our Holy Scriptures, the Torah-"The stranger who resides with you shall be as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."(Leviticus 19,34)
Exile and homelessness not only brought suffering and loss to our people; it transmitted a moral lesson in human sensitivity, it transformed an ordinary people into a people of moral commitment and courage, a people that translated its own suffering into a narrative of not only Jewish redemption but of the redemption of the total human community, stranger and foe alike.
Yom Haatzmaoot, Israel Independence Day ,beckons us to rejoice, to celebrate, to dance and sing , and to eat fallafel, and to gratefully praise the Rock of Israel for this moment of glory. It is also a powerful opportunity to renew our gratitude for being a people dedicated to right the wrong, to seek peace and nurture it, to establish a society of righteousness and compassion for all people within its borders and beyond. With pride and gratefulness, we continue to sing with full hearts-Hatikvah-The Hope ,for universal freedom and peace. Amen

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Walking along a country road , I was nearing the synagogue for Shabbat services, having almost completed my usual Saturday morning walk to and from Shul. Up ahead another early morning walker was coming my way. We exchanged morning greetings. He paused and added:” I’ve never seen a morning walker in a suit and tie before.”
Caught somewhat off guard but not entirely surprised, (I did in fact cut a strange figure in my dark suit and tie when every other walker was casually dressed) I searched for a quick answer that wouldn’t involve a lengthy explanation of my being a rabbi and on my way to Shabbat services.
He declared flatteringly, “ You certainly are a walker with class!”
I laughed, thanked him for his compliment and for not considering me in a negative light, and we each went our separate ways.
I love to walk. Where I walk greatly influences my sense of joy. An urban walk fills me with the energy of the city, stimulating senses and mind. A country walk opens my mind and heart to the soft, silent spaciousness of our natural home. I confess that a walk in the suburbs is least rewarding.
Walking is a gift of many delights. I need not point out the medical benefits reiterated almost ad nauseam by the media and countless publications and studies. Simply “getting out” is a joy in itself. Each step that we take is reason enough for gratitude.
For me, walking becomes an exercise in meditation. Having experienced “walking meditations” while on spiritual retreat not long ago, each walk I take is becomes an encounter with the unexpected and with the attentive awareness of life’s endless aspects of unfolding.
Invariably, without planning or pre-meditation, my awareness of things heightens and sharpens. The chirping of birds, the colors of leaves, the warmth of the sun, the bracing breeze in my face, come into a focus of extraordinary clarity.
More surprisingly, indeed mysteriously, is the flow of thoughts and images that courses through my mind, unexpectedly, suddenly, each detail a little gift from somewhere, from an unknown source. Yes, the brain provides the thoughts, the feelings. But, how do we explain their content, their meaning, their unusual clarity and depth of insight? Where do new ideas come from? How can we understand the creative?Why do some memories rise to the surface while so many others remain submerged under layers of the unconscious?
Walking puts me in touch with this process and my heart opens as I witness another, perhaps the greatest gift of life, the wonder of human thought and feeling, of human awareness and consciousness.
Walking thus becomes a total and all-embracing experience, one that engages body, mind and heart and reminds us to be grateful for every step we take.
“ Baruch ata-We bless You – Hameichin mitzaadei gaver- Who guides our everyday the steps.”

Thursday, May 1, 2008


The nicest time for my walk to synagogue and back is Passover. The spring sun nudges the nippiness in the air into the nooks of a waning winter, and I feel embraced by waves of warmth that enfold my every step. On either side of the street are the sentinels of spring, now garbed in uniforms of dazzling green dappled with splashes of red, pink, yellow and white. I take a deep breath, inhaling colors and scents of a morning in early spring.
When I walk I tend to get lost in thought. After an initial infusion of the wondrous spring surroundings, I slipped into philosophical musings. With my eyes lowered, I begin a not uncommon excursion into ruminations about God, the meaning of life, the role of religion. These considerations evolved into thoughts about the Torah reading for that morning, my prepared sermonic remarks and matters pertaining to the synagogue. Eventually, worries cropped up about my children, my wife, my aging in-laws, my family in Canada, about the state of Israel and the world. All this is quite a lot of thinking for a short twenty-minute walk, yet it is fairly typical.
Suddenly, a familiar fragrance filtered into my nostrils. I stopped. Above and alongside me hung the lovely and luscious buds of a modest sized lilac tree. I took a cluster gently into my hand, bent over and slowly breathed in the aroma of God’s world. The lilac is my most beloved flower. I was transported back in time to my modest house in Montreal. In front of the house was a patch of grass and one tiny tree-a lilac tree. Each Passover was greeted with the flowering of bright lavender buds and a fragrance that filled me with a sensual experience that merged with the romantic musings of a typical teenager.
Here again, passing over me was the angel of spring, and as she passed, she praised the Author of Nature’s wonder with a song of the lilac’s sweet and sacred scent.
I paused, uttered a brief word of mortal praise, and continued on my way, grateful for the lilac, another link to my life.