Monday, December 14, 2009


What is a friend?
One who knows your soul and loves it by nurturing it.I am grateful to have such a friend.
He sent me the following poem that I believe represents all of my personal spiritual stirivings and those of Hannukah and Judaism in general.
During this period of Hannukah we recite HALLEL-Psalms of Praise which are integral parts of all festive occasions on the Jewish calendar. It is my assertion that praise connected to gratefulness is the spiritual oasis of all of us, a place and opportunity by which to encounter life's miracle and endure all of life's challenges with grace, love and courage.
These are the words that should be etched on all our souls:
“Tell us, O poet, what do you do? I praise. But those dark, deadly devastating ways,/ How do you bear them, suffer them? I praise. And the Nameless, beyond guess or gaze, /How can you call it, conjure it? I praise. And whence your right, in every kind of maze/In every mask, to remain true? I praise. And that the mildest and the wildest ways/ Know you like star and storm? Because I praise.
Happy Hannukah

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


It's easy to be grateful on Hannukah! How can one not be thankful for miracles? After all, the miraculous is pretty spectacular and we all love a good spectacle.
Lights are lovely, dreidels, delightful,latkes-potato pancakes- mouth watering, gift giving or Chanukeh gelt, a good reason for gratitude. It is Jewishly ennobling to gain an awareness of the victory of the few and poorly armed Maccabees over the large and better equipped armies of the ancient Syrian-Greeks. The struggle for religious freedom is a message that resonates comfortably in the minds of modern Jews. There are no restrictions of any significance during these eight days , and the over-all ambience is one of rejoicing and playful celebration.
Enough said as a reason for connecting gratefulness to this occasion? I think not and suggest a dimension of understanding that takes us beyond the obvious of Hannukah.
The one major concrete act of the holiday is kindling lights for eight days. Its purpose according to rabbinic tradition is to "publicize the miracle" in Aramaic:pirsuma nissah . For this reason we place the Menorah in the windows of our homes for outsiders to catch a glimpse of the lights; in many communities, especially among the Lubavitcher Hassidim, we witness enormous Menorahs placed in the most populous locations of our towns and cities and observe rabbis in cherry pickers with torch in hand lighting flames that can be seen from
far away distances.
To publicize the miracle has a deeper, more modest meaning for me. The spiritual purpose of Hannukah is to enable every individual to raise one's inner consciousness of the miracle, the wonder and the remarkable realities not only of Hannukah but of all of Jewish and human experience. When we recite the special "al hanissim" prayer it is placed alongside the daily prayer in which we acknowledge and thank God for the miraculous realities of every day of our lives, evening, morning and noontime. The challenge of Hannukkah ,indeed of all of Judaism, is to publicize the miracle as an integral part of our spiritual lives and in this way respond with gratefulness to the countless reflections of the divine, of the wondrous, as they flicker and dance in the shadowy spaces of our lives.
Take a moment or two from the games, gift giving , eating , singing and praying of Hanukkah and simply observe the lights -perhaps in these quiet few moments you will gratefully rediscover life's great miracle.
Happy Hannukah

Monday, December 7, 2009


We were driving along the streets of Manhattan and I was sharing my weekend experiences as scholar in residence in a nearby synagogue with my son, Jeremiah. In particular I tried to convey how I understood the importance of Hannukah from the vantage point of gratefulness.It was somewhat elaborate-after all it had to take up at least 20 minutes of sermon time in the synagogue! Almost instinctively Jeremiah replied with a simple but very moving interpretation of Chanukah's richness as a source of connection to gratefulness living in our spiritual lives.I gratefully share his insight.
On the surface we focus on the LIGHTS of Hannukah-they capture our attention and symbolize so much of our emotional attachment to the holiday.Behind the light,however, is the oil, the fuel without which the fire and the light are impossible."I see gratitude as the oil, the fuel, that has the power of kindling the lights of enlightenment and joy," he concluded.
I became aware of a new way of understanding the popular legend of Hannukah's miracle, the oil sufficient for one day lasting for eight days.If we understand oil-gratitude as spiritual fuel, then this miracle takes on new and ongoing significance. A slight awareness of the gift of life for which to feel grateful carries the potential for the outpouring of increased capacities to see the world as a miraculous and a marvelous gift for which we can hardly hold back our response of praise and gratitude.To me gratitude, as a spiritual fuel,is entirely renewable and capable of energizing our spiritual lives with added dimensions of beauty, joy and holiness.It is no accident that we ignite an additional light each night of Hannukah; we do so to remind us of the power of a single spark to kindle a flame of passion, love and goodness which will to illuminate the many dark corners of our our lives and the world.

Happy Hannukah


I have just returned from a weekend in Long Island during which I conducted several discussions on the meaning of gratefulness at a wonderfully 'heimeshe' and welcoming congregation, East Northport Jewish Center.
Rabbi Ian and Beth Silverman were the most gracious of hosts;within minutes of my arrival I felt at home and this feeling only grew and deepened as the weekend unfolded.
Congregants were quick to warmly extend greetings and offer ways by which to make my stay at their synagogue an enjoyable and comfortable one.
I am most grateful for one particular experience. On Friday evening, in attendance were over twenty children. I am a strong believer in engaging everyone in my presentations. I directed my opening question to these pre-Bar/Bat Mitzvah age youngsters:
What are you most grateful for? I asked.
The answers were reassuring, mature, and I think quite remarkable.
For those who replied, the sources of their greatest gratitude were: family-parents, friends, synagogue, being Jewish and people in general. Hannukah was in the air and yet no one referred to the prospect of Hannukah gifts as the impetus for feeling grateful.Not a single child made mention of a video game as a reason for being thankful! I confess that I was quite impressed and felt most grateful for this group of young Jewish children who were reared to recognize the important aspects of gratefulness living.I think these responses reflected not only the uniqueness of the children but their families and their synagogue community as well.

As we approach Hannukah, and gifts are exchanged, I pray that we all feel deep gratitude for what we receive;I hope that beyond the material items given to loved ones and friends, we will once again be conscious of the enduring gifts for which to be unendingly grateful-family, friends, the synagogue, the honor of being Jewish and the gift of being human.

Hag Hannukah Sameach.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Each Thursday morning, bright and early, I board a bus for Manhattan where I teach at a local college.My stop is the first one and I take a seat next to the driver, alongside the stairs leading up into the belly of the bus.The next 40 minutes is a period of observation and thought. Unlike others, I cannot read or write while the bus is moving.Stop after stop, people ascend and descend like the angels in the Genesis story of Jacob's dream of the ladder stationed on earth with its top pointing heavenward. Each human angel is on her way up the ladder of the day, a journey to an office, shop, warehouse, factory, boardroom or schoolroom.
Sunrise fills the sky and pours into the bus, blinking eyes catching sight of skyscrapers beckoning silently, awaiting our arrival. Each ordinary bus ride fills me with amazement as I return to the place that dazzled my imagination when as a young and impressionable teenager of sixteen I stood gazing at the towering reality of Times Square on my first visit from Canada. Manhattan's magic and marvel never cease; I am transported to a world of utter wonderment with each arrival.
We wind our way along the wavy waters of the Hudson; and entering the Mid-Town Tunnel my mind leaps to the Biblical image of a people cutting through the waters of the Red Sea on dry land to safety. The engineering feat of a tunnel creating dry space for motor vehicles to drive through in the hundreds of thousands each day is a constant reaffirmation of the miracles and wonders of modern life."The waters were split, forming a wall for them on their right and on their left."
65 passengers alight from the bus and disappear into the throngs of Manhattan's morning movement. Waves of water, waves of people, the stream of life ,churning and tumultuous, ascending and descending, alive.A spectacle of surprise, another day's gift for which to be grateful.
Shabbat Shalom

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gratefulness or Gratitude: Thanksgiving Reflections

I have often been asked why I prefer to use Gratefulness instead of Gratitude whenever attempting to highlight the centrality of being grateful as a spiritual state of enlightenment. Perhaps the Torah reading for this Shabbat, Vayeitzei, will shed some light on the distinction between the two.
The rabbis tell us “From the beginning of time no one ever thanked God as Leah did.”(Talmud Berachot 7b)
This commentary is based on the verse “She conceived again and bore a son and declared-This time I will praise, thank -odeh- the Lord.” (Genesis 29:35)
The Etz Hayyim commentary (2001, The Rabbinical Assembly, JPS, p.174) provides us with an insightful reading of this text. ”The names of Leah’s three sons reflect her frustrating rivalry with her sister for the love of the husband they share… Now with the fourth son, her mood changes from rivalry to gratitude, so she names him Judah (Yehudah) from the Hebrew root meaning “to praise”…Her heartfelt prayer of thanks reflects her having grown from self-concern and a focus on what she lacked to a genuine sense of appreciation for what was hers.”
In other words Leah I am sure felt gratitude each time she was blessed with a child, feeling a temporary hope that with each birth she will finally fill her sense of being unloved with the appreciation and love of her husband. But that was no to be the case, She remained the less preferred wife, even after the birth of Judah. At this point, however, she arrived at a state of mind that was inherently grateful without extraneous expectation .She was suffused with grateFULness, not merely feeling gratitude for a particular gift. Her way of experiencing the world was not conditioned on receiving anything; rather-“Hapaam”-this time, in this moment I have been able to recognize the giftedness of being a woman and being able to bear a child-my sense of self is no longer determined by what I expect from others i.e. my husband, but rather from an awareness of being grateful for who I am.
This is the great spiritual challenge of Thanksgiving-We give thanks for so much in our lives, we can and should feel gratitude; as we think about Leah, the loveless Matriarch with “weak eyes,” we take inspiration from her strong sense of self rooted in her capacity to praise and thank God f for who she was, and celebrate her life with gratefulness.
Happy Thanksgiving and
Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Tenoo li ahuzat kever…
Sell me a burial site…
Genesis 23:3

The “leitwort,” the pivoyal word repeated in twelve different forms in the course of the first chapter is that connected with burial, kavor. Abraham has lost his wife Sarah; he needs to bury her, and acquires a family burial plot in the land of Canaan where his family will bury their dead in perpetuity.This act is followed by a resumption of living as he directs his servant to seek out a proper mate for his son Isaac.Abraham in old age then proceeds to remarry and bear more children.

Yesterday, during Shabbat services at Romemu, Rabbi David Ingber invited the congregation to pair off with another worshipper and engage in an exchange around the question: What do you need to bury before you can proceed with your own life?
It was a powerful exercise that made conscious many of the obstacles that stand in the way of our personal growth and forward spiritual movement. I considered this personal and intimate application of what appears to be a formal transaction in the Torah as a brilliant exegesis of Torah’s everyday wisdom. This gift of being able to translate an ancient text into a contemporary and living document for enhancing our lives is one with which Rabbi David is blessed and for which I am deeply grateful.

In contemplating the act of burial as a “de-cathexis” it occurred to me that the root of the word to bury –kvr- also spells a totally opposite word that suggests the very opposite of burial and finality.
If the letters are rearranged, we have a new word-vkr- morning, three letters that also constitute the name of Isaac’s wife, (R)i(vk)ah. That is, for a new beginning to emerge in our lives it is imperative that we let go, we bury certain things of our past and honor them for what they were and go on with our lives. The past is important and must be recognized and honored, but only in the service of today and tomorrow.
I am grateful to Rabbi David for providing me with the spaciousness and creative opening to further interpret his words and those of the Torah.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Last Sunday I turned seventy. Since then I have found myself contemplating my mortality and vulnerability. I have experienced an array of feelings touching on sadness, fear and uncertainty. There was more in my life that was behind rather than ahead of me; my cup was no longer full, but mostly empty.

This is a depressing thought, one that confronts us with a spiritual challenge not only when we age, but whenever we feel that life's fullness is somehow out of reach for us, whether as a result of loss, illness, grief or some other personal experience of failure. How do we cope? How do we go ahead with our lives in a joyful and meaningful way?

One answer is found, I believe, in a striking passage of Hayyai Sarah. Sarah has died, Abraham has acquired a burial place for her, and we are told: "Abraham was old, advanced in years,and the Lord blessed Abraham in all things - Va'Adonai berakh et Avraham ba'kol." (Genesis 24: 1)

Many commentators point out that indeed Abraham enjoyed all the desired blessings of life - longevity, wealth, honor and wonderful children (Ibn Ezra). Yet, somehow, others dwell on what Abraham desired most and didn't receive until his final years, as the source of his greatest blessing, namely his own progeny. Rashi sees the bakol as equivalent in numerical value to ben, son, namely 52. Thus the blessing of greatest value is his son, Isaac for whom he needs to provide an appropriate wife which represents a segue to the remaining portion of the parashah.

A somewhat amusing discussion arises among our sages regarding the value of a daughter in ancient society; Rabbi Meir contending that because Abraham did not have a daughter, he considered himself blessed; Rabbi Judah, to the contrary, understood the word bakol asthe name of Abraham's daughter (Bava Batra 16b).

The commentary that resonates most powerfully for me is the Ramban, Nachmanides: "Others provided a hiddush, a fresh and innovative interpretation, one that is very profound and contains the deepest of secrets and mysteries of the Torah...that the holy One Blessed be He, possesses a divine trait that is known as KOL- ALL, and this is the foundation of everything...and He blessed him (Abraham) with this characteristic that emanates from God's Allness."

In spite of Abraham's loss of his beloved wife Sarah, the uncertainty of his son's future and the trials of advanced age, he nonetheless felt blessed because he had acquired an inner spiritual quality of the Divine which was the capacity to see life's fullness and completeness in all things and at all times. Abraham's intimacy with God found its expression in this connection to the totality and fullness of life. Everything is God-Ein od milvado (Deut. 4:35, chanted as the first verse before the Haqafot)- and the capacity to recognize the divine in everything, even in one's advancing years, is the greatest of all blessings. Moreover, Abraham's sefirotic attachment is Hesed, compassion. Thus Abraham's love can be seen as a natural outpouring of his attribute of kol.

"...the ability to perceive "allness" is a way of coping (compassionately) with evil and suffering." (I Thank therefore I Am-Gateways to Gratefulness, X Libris, p. 88)

As I make my way into my 71st year, I pray that I be blessed with Abraham's insight of "allness." May we all be blessed with the awareness of the divine in all things and in this way not only cope with the challenges ahead of us, but convert them into paths of greater gratefulness, hesed, and peace.


The Grateful Rabbi On YOU TUBE

here is a video of a talk in Toronto Canada-Feb.2008.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I didn't want a birthday party- I was turning 70, a milestone year in anyone's life, and I wished to experience it as simply and quietly as possible.My family felt otherwise and my wife suggested that instead of a "birthday party" with connotations of excess and going overboard, we refer to the event as a "Gratefulness Gathering." I agreed and indeed the occasion was extraordinary ; friends and family came together, ate and drank, shared their friendship and love, and made me cry with gratitude for them and my life.
Only token gifts were brought; in the spirit of gratefulness each participant was encouraged to donate something to a charitable cause of their own choosing. Gratefulness needed to be translated into compassion for it to be fulfilling.
Perhaps others will adopt this practice when celebrating their birthdays and discover the greatest gift of all, the gift of loving gratitude.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Last night, together with ten others, I completed an eight week program of preparation to become a compassionate companion to those whose life is ending . The program is sponsored by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, and for ten years has prepared doulas to help the dying experience their final moments peacefully and with personal meaning. “Doula” is the Greek word for servant and is commonly associated with the activity of birth. This term is now applied to the task of accompanying seriously ill patients through the process of dying. To be a doula, a servant of life, is a great privilege. In the words of Rachel Naomi Remen, “When I help, I have a feeling of satisfaction, but when I serve I have a feeling of gratitude.”
To serve in the capacity of doula to the dying is to act as an “empty vessel” into which the dying person can pour her fears, his hopes, her rage and his pain, and feel comforted that the compassionate companion will not judge, recriminate or moralize but listen lovingly and through compassionate acceptance affirm the dying person’s dignity and humanity.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve not as a rabbi or a social worker-professions for which I have been schooled and trained-but simply as Henry, as another human being who hopefully will discover in his heart the capacity to care for another human being.
Finally, my gratefulness is particularly poignant because the class has been blessed with the teaching presence of two extraordinary social workers and human beings, instructors not only in the skills of human service but in the wisdom of the human heart. Not once did a word of judgment or insensitivity cross their lips; not once did anyone ever feel anything but the profoundest respect and compassion from these women; their honesty ,love and dedication to compassionate service, reflected an authenticity of soul so rare in today’s world of self concealment and the need to be rigidly perfect and untouchable. They were indeed model “doulas” who brought comfort and joy, and a spiritual discovery to people from every walk of life, enabling, encouraging and inspiring.
To all doulas:
Blessings for a future of abundant gratefulness.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I was on the bus for about four hours; I was traveling alone.
Other passengers read, wrote, slept or listened to their IPods. I feel nausea if I read or write on a moving motor vehicle, I wasn’t tired and I don’t own an IPod! What was I to do for the duration of the trip?
I spent the time thankfully and creatively. I gazed out the window at the passing spectacle of luscious colors, leaves preparing to take leave of their branches and float downward to their demise, but not before a stunning display of color-they would make their exit with all the drama contained in brilliant yellows, oranges and reds.
Of course my mind was awash with reels of thought and associations. I focused on the beauty of the outside, the joys of simply speeding along a highway, and the relationship of mother and daughter in front of me. The mother was elderly, the daughter, an adult. They spoke a foreign language, perhaps German. I was unable to catch their words clearly. But what I did perceive was their simple love and joy of sitting together. They chatted, shared pretzels and baby carrots, giggled at digital pictures the daughter was taking, and when feeling tired she snuggled up to her mother’s body to catch a carefree nap while a mother’s hand lovingly rested on her head. Not once did a harsh or impatient word pass between them; I was witness to a picture of the joy of simply being together.
I was also blessed with thoughts that were creative that helped me clarify some ideas I was considering at the time. I was grateful that such clarification arrived.
Being alone and quiet can be a great gift . Was I bored? Not for a moment. After all, is life boring?
Furthermore, I was grateful for a safe trip. And oh yes, my gratitude was overflowing for the readily available restroom at the rear of the bus!
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I was stunned. Standing in front of the counter that prepares samples at Trader Joe’s I was told that Gio had died. I stood still, a shudder ran through my body; I was surprised by the intensity of my reaction.
Gio was the nice Italian lady who stood behind the counter and dished out samples of luscious food. At each visit to Trader Joe’s, the counter is my first destination. As I pour a small cup of the featured coffee of the day, I exchange greetings with Gio and within seconds we would be talking about opera; she loved the opera. Her only complaint about the world of contemporary opera was the loss of the formality that reigned in opera houses of yesterday. She bemoaned the excessive informality of those who attended opera as if to suggest that improper dress was an act of blasphemy, a sin against the sanctity of opera’s holy of holies. She shared her early experiences of opera attendance when everyone “dressed up” for the long-awaited occasion; “that’s when opera was opera!”
Our conversations were brief, friendly, but not terribly personal.
Yet, they spiced up the special flavors of the coffee and the morsels of pancake or beer bread so many sampled. In a real sense, the few minutes with Gio represented being in one’s kitchen, being home. Perhaps that is why her death came as such a shock, such a loss.
I am grateful for those passing moments; they will be remembered.
Ciao, Gio.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grateful for " the Ecstasy" and the " the Laundry."

This morning, the day after Yom Kippur, I found myself doing the laundry. Since my retirement, I engage myself in a variety of household chores, at least those that my wife allows me to do. Doing the laundry is one of the permissible tasks.
As I folded the freshly laundered articles of clothing, the title of a well-known book on spirituality popped into my mind-"After the Ecstasy, the Laundry." Smiling to myself, I recalled a full day of ecstasy at Rommemu during the Yom Kippur service-we prayed, we sang, we danced, we wept, we laughed, we embraced and most important of all, the gates of our hearts swung open to receive the joy of forgiveness and teshuvah- returning to our Source.
Now, I was folding clothes-no music, no elation, no praises soaring heaven ward-only the fresh touch and smell of socks and undergarments. The ecstasy was gone, or was it? Is there nothing remarkable, wondrous about being able to have clothes to cover our bodies? Can we not recognize the gift of laundering our clothes in a machine just a few steps away from us rather than walking miles with heavy bundles on our backs and pounding at sweat drenched shirts and trousers upon a rock along a stream filled with hundreds of other pounders?
At that moment,the sensation of the clean and the fresh felt like the cleansing process of the High Holiday period-the cleanliness of body and soul converged and I felt a subtle ecstasy the morning after the great holy day, realizing that every day and everything holds the holy sparks of the divine. In my heart, I knelt before the holy as I had fallen to the floor of the house of worship the day before, and lay prostrate in humble gratitude before the Awesome goodness of the Giver of all things.


" REAL MEN DON'T CRY!" In spite of the many cultural and societal changes of the past number of years, to publicly cry continues to suggest weakness and a posture of vulnerability which could be taken advantage of and lead to much hurt and suffering.It is rare to find a synagogue or any house of worship where tears flow naturally, especially from the eyes of their spiritual leaders.
Yesterday, I as well as many others in attendance at Rommemu- a spiritual renewal synagogue on the upper West Side of Manhattan,for the Yom Kippur services, were blessed with the rabbi's tears. As he recited the Kaddish in memory of the six million victims of the holocaust, the words were interrupted- no, they were elevated, by the gasping and halting breath that accompanied sobbing and tears. Reb David's tears opened our hearts and taught me that the most powerful heart opener is the human tear.In the words of the Buddhist teacher, Ajahn Chah," If you haven't wept deeply, you haven't begin to meditate."
Rommemu employs many tools by which to enhance the power of prayer:Singing and chanting that transport worshipers to a different place; clapping,dancing and jumping for joy that bring you to a state of near ecstasy; teachings that speak to one's life. For me it was Rabbi David's tears that opened for me the gates of heaven and allowed my prayers to touch the hem of the Holy One.
For your tears, David, I am most grateful.

Monday, September 21, 2009


It is the day after Rosh Hashanah, another day of review.I remind myself of all that i could be grateful for- perfect fall weather, my children at home, excellent meals,good health, and the awareness of having been granted another year of life. Perhaps the greatest gift of all was the opportunity to visit Jewish patients-and some who weren't Jewish-at a local hospital and bring the sacred and plaintive sounds of the Shofar, sounds of home and synagogue,into a space of sterility,loneliness and fear. Since retiring from the pulpit ,it has become my Rosh Hashanah tradition to perform this act of Bikur Holim-visiting the sick, with my son Jeremiah, at the beginning of each New Year.
I recite the blessings, including the "Sheheheyanu-"thanking God for another year of life, and Jeremiah competently and caringly sounds the Shofar- Tekiah,the note of confidence, Shevarim, three brief blasts suggesting brokenness, and Teruah, short stuccato sounds reflecting the wailing that arises in our heart in the face of life's many hardships and trials. Tears of loss and yearning fill patients' eyes but with the Tekiah Gedolah-the prolonged tekiah blast at the end, sorrowful faces find the courage to smile, a glow of festival joy gleaming in their eyes.
I see a face of gratitude and I am grateful beyond words.
I am touched by the High Holyday service-its music, poetry, its majesty. Nothing touches me more deeply that the words of thanks from frightened hearts that feel the peace of Rosh Hashanah's sweetness if only for a fleeting moment.
"Shehecheyanu-" we gratefully thank the Source of all life for the precious gift of life. Amen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


The dominant sentiment(besides hunger,thirst and a wooziness in the head)one experiences on Yom Kippur is the sense of inadequacy, moral failing, guilt.We are confronted by myriads of words that accuse us of wrongdoing, unrelentingly pointing to our shortcomings and mistakes. We are left feeling not only hungry and irritable but also guilty. Again and again we are reminded how we have fallen short, missed the mark, of the finest standards of our tradition, society and God. Not a very joyful prospect to look forward to!
But, the service does provide us with the antidote to the spiritual maladies that beset us; we expunge our guilt by an awareness of wrongdoing, by apology to God and our fellow human beings, atonement in the form of some self-deprivation, and the affirmation of an honest attempt at self-improvement.
I confess-it's the season of confession-that I do not like to feel guilty. As a matter of fact, I don't know anyone who does, in spite of the neurotic need that perhaps many have to feel and feed upon guilt. The emotion of guilt is, I believe fairly widespread, perhaps innate to some degree. Yet, my prescription for arriving at spiritual purification at this time of the year is not guilt but gratefulness. For me gratefulness is the necessary lens through which we can catch clearer glimpses of the good in ourselves and others and enlarge the scope of that goodness in our lives.By contrast, the prism of guilt often blinds us with self-punishment, paralysis and the extinguishing of the natural spark of goodness inherent in the universe.
As we encounter the challenges of life, instead of berating ourselves with all that we did wrong, why not build on what we did that was not wrong? Maybe in this way we will construct a much sturdier spiritual structure in our lives! Even in the midst of our guilt, why not feel grateful for the awareness and insight which can then elicit a perception of possibilities for change and betterment?
Why not greet our imperfections lovingly, compassionately, gratefully acknowledging the challenge and adventure of our God-given gift to be able to mend ourselves and the world?
It is no accident that the Baal Shem Tov, the father of the Hassidic movement in Judaism , when reciting the litany of confession did so not sorrowfully and in tears but with joy and a sense of gratitude. To confess was indeed painful;but beyond that, it was cathartic, it was a powerful relief and opportunity at self-cleansing and the possibility of a new start.
Indeed Yom Kippur is not regarded by tradition as a "Black Fast." but rather as a "Yom Tov"-a holiday, a festival, a good day. When we attend the synagogue, we hope to encounter not a Presence of punishment and reprimand but a Presence of Compassion and Forgiveness.
The Midrash -a classical rabbinic commentary-on Psalms ,shares the followin"The Lord has ascended to the sound of Teruah-the sound of trembling and to the sound of the Shofar, the sound of confidence and reassurance.Rabbi Judah says: First God ascends to the throne of judgment, but once the Shofar is sounded, He ascends to the throne of Mercy and Compassion,(a higher place)."
The human counterpart to the divine experience is our feeling of guilt when we find ourselves immersed in self judgment, when we sit on our own throne of judgment; this position may be unavoidable but it is ,I believe far from desirable.
Like God however, it is within our power to ascend to a higher spiritual position in our lives, to take a seat on the throne of compassion and mercy, to forgive, to act compassionately and view life gratefully, perhaps the highest level on our spiritual journey.

With continued blessings for a meaningful and joyful fast ,one of abundant feelings of gratefulness.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Amazing, isn't it? Another Jewish year has gone by. In only a few days most of us will be spending some time in the synagogue.There, we will participate in a litany of prayers petitioning God for a new year of peace, prosperity,health,success and happiness.
Anxieties will rise about the future,regrets about the past.
For so many, the focus of these few special days will be directed to:what's wrong?
What has been wrong in the past and what can go wrong in the future?
The path of gratefulness suggests a different approach. Rather than what's wrong, why not what's not wrong? Instead of dwelling on the disappointments of yesterday, why not consider the myriad delights of the year gone by? In place of the anxiety about tomorrow, what about the anticipation of all we can do to bring about joy and blessing for ourselves and for others?
Simply, if we find a place in our hearts to touch the thankfulness for all our blessings, I have little doubt that the New Year will indeed be one abundant in goodness and blessing.
May you all be inscribed in the book of life, blessing and gratefulness.Amen

Friday, August 21, 2009

Grateful for an “artistic” moment

I pulled into the driveway of our home in the Berkshires and there she was-my wife was on our deck, standing in front of an easel. Brush in hand, wide hat on her head, and a deep sense of gratefulness in her heart.
I simply sat in the car and basked in the moment of gratefulness knowing how essential painting is for my wife’s soul and for witnessing the quiet and intense joy on her face.
My wife is a wonderfully able social worker, responsible for a mental health clinic for children and adolescents. Her working life is stressful and demanding, yet rewarding. By and large there is very little beauty in her working life; abused children and spouses, dysfunctional families, people ensnared by addiction, failure and pain in the classroom, are the brush strokes of a colorless, grey, if not black world .The canvas of my wife’s work world is splattered with the oils of human struggle and indignity.
When a calm moment arrives-a long weekend, a summer vacation- she takes a well-deserved absence from the dark world of human tragedy and enters into a world of light and color-luscious green of rustling trees, swaths of sunshine and color, a world of sheer beauty.
I glanced at her canvas. I noticed what appeared to be arbitrary stroke of random color.
“Why did you make those strokes?” I asked. “What do they mean?”
She replied. “This is the sketch of the painting I am working on.” It made no immediate sense to me. I am barely capable of drawing a round face with a smile or a frown.
I then realized that every stroke was like a letter or word in a composition of writing. She had the talent and the training to understand the vocabulary of color. That was one of her many gifts, one that brought her an inner, core experience of joy. That was the thread of her creative life, a gift from the Universe ,one for which all who will see the finished painting will indeed be grateful.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grateful for “standing on one leg.”

I slammed on my brakes. Arriving at a crossway in the center of town, a pedestrian was about to cross the street. He was navigating a mechanized wheel chair, a red flag perched at the rear announcing caution and care. The elderly man looked mad; tubes stuck out of his nose; his complexion was ashen and the skin of his bare legs was a raw red.
I could not help but watch him hurriedly roll by and imagine how difficult a life he must endure. Wondering about his destination I learned that he was on his way to the town library. I continued my ride.
On the way, I passed a local cemetery, one that would capture my fascination with each
ride by. On a hill, the stones dark gray, even black, many barely standing , tilting to one side. One stone stood on one point of its four corners, seemingly defying the force of gravity.
In life and in death, we are often left with only one leg to stand on. The gentleman crossing the crossway had his library, a book would support his final days, however painful and humiliating. The deceased had a stone, however unstable, to remind the world of his life. As long as it stood, even on “one leg,” it defied oblivion.
Whatever our handicaps and infirmities, we have a leg to stand on, some part of life that sustains us and helps us understand that life is, in the final analysis, worthwhile. It falls to us to recognize this support and find gratitude for it. If we do, we can, I believe, overcome any crossway and arrive safely on the other side.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I just returned from food shopping-a new feature of my life since retirement-and in the bag of groceries was a tin of oatmeal-John McCann steel cut Oat meal-on the cover of the tin the buyer is informed that it won a certificate of award at the international exhibition of 1876 and is produced in County Kildare, Ireland. I am not impressed by packaging gimmicks or clever advertising tricks;this product was recommended by a good friend and as someone who loves oatmeal I decided to give this brand a try. A further reluctance to purchase this item had to do with its preparation-it was not done instantaneously in a microwave but required the traditional procedures of boiling water, cooking the grains and letting the mixture simmer with occasional stirring.
Too much work, I thought!
Well, I am now hooked on my morning McCann's oatmeal. This simple act of boiling water and adding the oatmeal which takes no more than 15-20 minutes has been another lesson in learning to be grateful for the mystery of simple things in life.
To prepare the oatmeal has slowed me down internally.The need for patience, for the simple deliberate steps of measuring 2 cups of water, bringing the water to a brisk boil, stirring the oatmeal, allowing it to simmer, all introduce a ritual or practice that reminds me to be mindful of what I eat and how I arrive at a delicious food that is both edible and nutritious.
Other remarkable benefits bless this activity. Have you ever carefully observed the dance of brisk popping bubbles in a pot of boiling water? Have you ever stopped to listen to these tiny balloons pop in the hush of an early morning"s sacred silence? Have you ever witnessed the miracle of a natural hard grain transforming itself into a soft and spongy substance ,a source of nurturance and life for humans and other sentient beings? Have you ever inhaled the warm, sweet scents of a breakfast of steaming oatmeal evoking olifactory memories of a child snuggled under protective covers on an early morning of a cold winter's day?

Together with morning prayers, I have added the preparation of oatmeal to my daily act of thanksgiving and gratitude. Who knows? Perhaps this simple act will lead to the more elaborate preparation of cooking full meals for my wife and family!

Friday, July 31, 2009


The title of this posting appears contradictory; if one is grateful, it is not necessary to kvetch-translation of Yiddish-complain. If one kvetches, obviously one is not feeling very grateful.
How do we reconcile the two?
I propose that the ability to kvetch- to complain, to vent our unhappiness and protest what we perceive is unfair in our lives is a healthy outlet which could lead to an awareness of gratitude for what is. Often kvetching is like a cleansing of our feelings and thoughts which block the flow of positive energy in the world and inhibit our ability to connect to that for which we can be grateful. There are times we have to get the negativity off our chests. To paraphrase the Bible-“There is no man on earth who does not kvetch or at least have the desire to do so.” It is so natural to complain, entirely human. Because of the ease by which we can complain the challenge of seeing the world gratefully becomes even greater and more daunting. In fact, one can argue that to transcend our proclivity for kvetching is in some way a spiritually heroic act; after all, whenever we resist or overcome natural obstacles or hurdles in our lives, we arrive at special moments of personal achievement that can be regarded as significant steps of human spiritual advancement.
Tisha B’Av, the fast day of mourning, sadness, protest and anger was experienced only yesterday. This day hearkens back to experiences of kvetching . According to the Rabbis, when the spies and Israel were gripped by fear and negativity and complained bitterly to God that the Land of Israel was beyond their grasp and they would all perish in the wilderness, it was the Ninth of Av.
Thus, kvetching can go too far, and create the static that interferes with the clear communication of life’s blessings and goodness.
Today we turn toward the Fifteenth of Av-Tu B’Av; just 6 days after commemorating destruction and tragedy we are bidden to let go of our kvetching, no matter how legitimate, and reach out to the experience of “dancing in the vineyards,” a metaphor for the sweetness and joy of life’s many gifts.
May we find the strength to make our way from the kvetching in the desolation of our tragic history to rediscover the “grapes of gratitude” in the vineyards of tomorrow’s promise
Shabbat Shalom-May this Shabbat "Nachamu" comfort us all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I have just completed one of my most enjoyable teaching experiences;in large part the satisfaction was derived from a fortunate mix of students who represented different walks of life and ideological perspectives but were open to pursue their social work studies with a unified aim of becoming effective and caring social workers.
The bulk of the class was comprised of Orthodox men and women, with the men being either rabbis or studying to become Orthodox rabbis.One student was Afro-American, another an atheist and a two others were secular Jews. They were all bright, intelligent, and "good people." They argued and debated enthusiastically, even heatedly but always respectfully.
What gave me the greatest sense of gratefulness was their genuine kindness and concern for one another and for their clients.
Another source of gratitude was my ability to be silly and sometimes humorous while enjoying an open responsiveness from the class. It is truly wonderful to be free when you teach and not constricted by institutional constraints or expectations of those who pay your salary. As I make my way into my "retirement " phase of life, I discover greater areas of freedom and openness in my writing and teaching. I can't adequately express what a gift that is, and how grateful I am for it.
The time whizzed by; each class was over "before it began;" I am saddened by its ending but fully aware that endings consist of feelings of gratitude for time well spent, for receiving again another gift of living "to teach and to learn."
Thank you, students of the Block program of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

Monday, July 6, 2009


I stepped into the lobby of my apartment house, the magnificent clear and summery blue sky behind me. My eyes blinked, adjusting to the sudden darkness of the indoors.
I spotted an elderly gentleman, leaning on a cane, frail looking but with eyes wide open, as if awaiting the adventure of a new day. We have become friendly through the almost daily contact in the small exercise room in the basement of the apartment building. He rides the exercise bicycle to keep himself fit.
“Good morning, Irving. Where are you off to today?” I asked.
With large eyes twinkling good-naturedly, he replied: “Where else? The doctor needs some money so I‘m paying him a visit.!” We chuckled and shared a few more cordialities, then said goodbye. His wife acknowledging my presence by adding-“Where do you think we’re going?” her voice slightly aggravated but resigned.
I continued to the elevator. How sad-what a way to spend one’s final days-going to doctors!
A moment later it occurred to me that Irving has so much for which to be grateful. He lives in a comfortable apartment house, together with a loving wife of 60 years; He is able to exercise each day, however limitedly; his mind is alert, and he continues to be sociable and friendly. His greatest gift perhaps is his ability to visit his doctor almost every week.
Is there not something in all our lives for which to be thankful? If not, then I fear a reality of utter despair.
I thank Irving for reminding again that the core of our lives pivots around the gifts that we have, if only we are blessed with the vision to see them.
I close with much gratitude for the sun that has been hiding but has finally decided to reappear and bless us with light and warmth.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Today was my last prayer service with the children of the Hebrew day school where I have taught for the past five years.
I have grown quite attached to these kids; a mixture of innocence and uncanny understanding fascinates me and draws me to their company. Over the past years I have tried to teach not only the skills of prayer-more fluent reading, understanding the choreography of prayer, and the many hows of praying-but also the soul of prayer, to somehow create an environment in which each student will feel something special, something of gratefulness and blessing about their lives, in spite of their youth and inexperience. I am persistently dogged by the awareness that these experiences may or may not become an integral part of their lives. So, with the relief that comes at the end of a school year is the question of how much was accomplished, how much will endure and not dissolve into oblivion.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have had a congregation of children who at times were annoyingly silly and noisy, and at other times the source of remarkable insight and perception. I have admonished them for their misbehavior and have congratulated them on their successes in conducting and reciting the prayers with clarity and enthusiasm.
I have giggled with them at moments that were somewhat awkward, laughed aloud when something truly funny popped out of their mouths and experienced a primitive sadness when something went wrong in their lives or the life of the school community.
I am most grateful for the gift of being allowed to love them.
I will miss them but hope to visit and in this way rejuvenate my gratefulness for simply being with them.

Friday, June 19, 2009


My mind is on the weather; I haven't seen the sun for almost a week. The sky has been shrouded in an enclosure of gray, and besides the wetness in the air, I have been feeling the loss of spacious possibility. The sky has encroached on my imagination, shrinking its grasp and range.
Today, the sun played hide and seek, appearing for a moment and then retreating behind
threatening dark clouds, echoing an invitation to continue seeking and not give up hope of rediscovering its outstretched warmth and light. I was blessed with a momentary reminder of life's paradoxical contrasts. As the sun shone, and as streaks of blue strained through the ominous blackness,its brevity filled me with a penetrating pleasure reserved for moments of transient treasures. How precious the sun, how precious each moment of warmth and light.
So I am grateful for the weather. It is obvious that without weather we cannot exist.
The blue and the gray are the colors of human survival. Be grateful for both.
Moreover, imagine the world without weather-what would we talk about with strangers in elevators or grocery stores? How would the media fill its advertising slots? And these fellows selling umbrellas on the street, how would they feed their families?
Thank You for the weather, for the cold rain that refreshes and the warm sun that replenishes our souls with the miracle of light, and for endless vistas of blue that
hold out out visions of infinity.
Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I teach a summer class in a school of social work; invariably, I forget to bring chalk with me to the classroom and find my self hoping to discover the treasured item when I arrive. I am usually disappointed and then scurry about in a desperate search for the white stuff-or yellow stuff- I am not particular, darting from one classroom to the next on the hunt for the precious prize.
This morning I was chalk-less. I tried the next door classroom and lo and behold one tiny piece of yellow chalk –an inch long-was perched on the chalkboard ledge . Several students were seated awaiting the arrival of their professor.I snatched up the chalk and grateful for my good fortune was about to rush back to my classroom when a young lady called out, smiling: “What is our teacher going to use? Why don’t you break the chalk in half and leave a piece behind?”
I was caught short and realized that my feeling of gratitude was an incomplete experience. For gratefulness to fulfill its course it was necessary to be translated into an act of sharing.I broke off a piece, thanked the young woman for her suggestion and left the classroom.
Not only can we discover a reason for being grateful in everyday, little things, but we can perform simple acts of giving as we respond to the ordinary, little things of life, as well.
Opportunities abound as the blessings of grateful giving.

Monday, June 1, 2009


The school year is winding down. Students are putting finishing touches on projects in progress, including the Gratefulness Journals that the children in my classes were filling with their expressions of gratitude. We collected all the individual sheets and put them into a decorative binder for the students to glance at while at home and share with their families. It was my hope that this exercise would heighten their sense of gratefulness beyond the school environment.
The range of things for which these kids expressed their gratitude was typically one that reflected the needs and desires of children. Perhaps the most popular item was the video game, with money and sports coming closely behind. Yet, family and friends emerged as immediate reasons for gratefulness too. Beyond the object of gratefulness, I tried to cultivate in these young hearts the very notion of gratefulness as a way of seeing the world. It was not the object but the emotional process of thankful awareness that was important.
As I returned the journals, one boy, barely 8 years old, walked over to me and as he handed his journal for me to enjoy said: "Rabbi, thank you for teaching me Torah."
I was overwhelmed by both his sweetness and his sincerity. What a gift! I could think of no greater reward for a teacher than these words of gratitude for teaching the subject I love most.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Rabbi Abahu said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: When the Holy One gave the Torah, no bird chirped, no fowl flew, no ox lowed...the se did not roar, creatures did not speak-the whole world was hushed into breathless silence; it was then that the voice went forth:"I am the Lord thy God.(exodus Rabah 29.9)

The written Torah has a completely different account of the context of divine revelation. The Book of Exodus relates:""As the third day dawned there was thunder and lightening and a dense cloud upon the mountain ...and Mount Sinai was all in smoke...and the whole mountain trembled violently...the blare of the horn grew louder and louder,as Mose spoke God answered in thunder..." (Exodus 19:16-19)

It can be claimed that there is no contradiction between the account of the written word-nature's dramatic eruption, and that of the oral Law, the dominance of silence. One could have followed the other. First there was the spectacle, then the silence. I would like to think however, that both settings represent ways by which the human soul experiences revelation.
I prefer the understanding of the Oral Law. Some need the dramatic, the overwhelming, the overpowering to submit to a divine reality. The sensational has wide appeal.
But, the Rabbis had the keenest of spiritual insights when they arrived at the understanding that the most fertile and receptive soil in which revelation can be planted and grow sturdily is the soil of silence. Words and spectacular natural phenomena, while striking and impressive, circumscribe the orbit of heavenly revelation.Once a word is spoken or recorded, its meaning takes on a specific definition, often inhibiting a wider and indeterminate range of possibilities. Likewise a passing natural phenomenon- stirring and majestic as it may be, its impact is often a fleeting one.
A silent hush, by contrast, is a realm of infinite possibility, a space in the mind and heart in which God's voice can be heard with the greatest of clarity-neither words nor natural sound interfere with a communication that is utterly pure.
Many of us are uncomfortable with silence; we grow restless, even anxious. So filled are we with sounds-from others, from sources of mechanical communication-TV, cell-phones, I-pods, computers etc. that silence is equated with lifelessness, with emptiness, with a sense of utter confusion.
Perhaps it is this spiritual setting of silence, of emptiness, that is the most fertile for spiritual aliveness and fullness. The Rabbis remind us that the deepest revelations take place surrounded by the sounds of silence.

As we celebrate and listen to the words of revelation-the reading of the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth-words of great beauty and compassion, let us sit in silence , allowing ourselves to encounter these words in the heart of our souls.
As we express our gratefulness for the sounds of Torah, so do we experience gratitude for the gift of silence.
Chag Sameach.

Friday, May 22, 2009


How can one not feel grateful on a child's birthday? Explanations and elaborations upon this experience are unnecessary-to comment on being grateful is superfluous.
Yet, the sense of being grateful strangely carries with it emotional warning signs deeply embedded in the human psych that can interfere with our capacity to feel grateful.
Many are inclined to sing praises of their loved ones publicly in an attempt to boast of their successes and achievements. They are proud of their childrens' accomplishments and proclaim the reasons for all to see and hear- witness the signs at the rear of many SUVs announcing to all -"My son/daughter is an honor student!"

Gratefulness emerges in a context not of pride but of humility.I demean not the "nachas" and pride that parents feel; however, from a spiritual point of view, gratefulness grounded in a sense of humility is by far the richer and more meaningful experience and attitude.

So, in this spirit I try to reach out to the horizon of boundless gratitude for God's blessings upon my son-his life, his health, his sense of joy, his good naturedness and his love of family and friends. In the words of the Haggadah-the Passover prayer booklet-DAYENU-all this is more than enough. How much more so should I be grateful for that which my son has been blessed with beyond the above.

"Shehehcheyanu v'keyemanu lazman hazeh"-I thank the Source of Life for keeping me and my loved ones alive to experience this day. Amen

Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


He seemed put upon; I was a little early.
"We open at ten!"
It was 9:00am. He stepped behind the counter and brought out the required form to be completed as part of the car's new insurance inspection.
He was curt, unfriendly. Outside he snapped a few pictures of my car, and handed over a copy of the completed form.
"Thank you so much," I said sincerely. I did appreciate his accommodation to my time schedule."May Allah bless you!"
A wide smile crossed his dark, Middle Eastern face.
"Allah bless you too!" he replied good naturedly.
"He should bless all of us, " I echoed back as I slipped back into the car.
Another example of how simple it is to transform a mood of sullenness into a moment of good cheer and friendliness.
Knowing that he was Moslem- I overheard him talking Arabic to his co-worker-I greeted him in the vocabulary of his own tradition and culture. And it worked! Imagine, I thought, if all over the world, we blessed one another in the language of the one being greeted. How many smiles would mushroom forth on the faces of so many. Interactions which were business-like and aloof could easily be changed into exchanges of personal warmth and greater intimacy.
I am realistic enough to understand that the world would not be that significantly different, but who knows what could unfold if such everyday greetings were to pervade our planet and become the emotional vernacular of international discourse? We all have to begin somewhere-I am grateful for the opportunity to bless anyone, anywhere.

Friday, May 15, 2009


My gratefulness level today is fairly low; there are many reasons,among which are the frustrations of dealing with a very complicated world of finance-banks, mortgage companies etc.
Thinking about my web site and the fact that I felt no urgency to record an awareness of gratefulness, I needed a resource to allow me to somehow reconnect with the world in a way that gratefulness could once again begin to seep into my consciousness. I turned to the poetry of Rumi, a Sufi poet of the 13th century, a Moslem mystic for whom individual, formal religions were merely different paths to the same destination, God, the Friend. Our Rabbis have said that while there is wisdom among non-Jews, there is no Torah. In the most general of terms I disagree.If Torah means wisdom of the divine, then others have access as well; in my opinion, Rumi is one of those who poetically touch the truth of the transcendent.
Reading a few pages of his "Torah" reignited within me a spark of understanding that brought me back to being grateful. As a poet, and as a mystic, (I believe that all poets are mystics and vice versa), his few words carried me back to a place of authentic gratitude. It probably won't last; the world is too much with us, too strong a reality. Thus the need for on-going Torah contemplation, prayer and meditation, and compassionate deeds-deeds that draw out our gratefulness and generate goodness outside of ourselves.
I quote Rumi again: "Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."

Shabbat Shalom-May your SABBATH guests be sources of increased gratefulness.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


A common metaphor by which the world is understood is that of a cup that is half- full. There are those who are inclined to see the cup as half full-the optimists, those who are grateful, and those who are focused on the cup as being half empty, the pessimists, the ones for whom gratitude is elusive. I wish to suggest that both views are incorrect.
In fact the cup of life is not divided by a ratio of one- half to one- half. The truth is, most of life is positive and full. With exceptions ,of course, most people’s lives are more than tolerable; there is less pain than over-all satisfaction, less illness than health, less abject poverty than some minimal level of subsistence and survival. The cup of life is indeed closer to three-quarters full and one quarter empty!
But, because of the human tendency to see things negatively-“the negativity bias”- we experience at most, only half of our lives as “full.” Well before Freud and T.S.Eliot, sophisticated thinkers were disposed to describe the human condition as one of “quiet desperation.”
A melancholic streak ran through the philosophy of so many people regarded as wise and insightful.
Fully conscious of this attitude, one which I confess I share, I nonetheless have grown to believe that Judaism, and spirituality in general, hold out to us the possibility of grasping life as a gift which is pregnant with goodness and awaits our engagement so as to bring this potential joy and fulfillment to ever greater fruition. I believe that the purpose of the ‘mitzvah’-the sacred deed-is to transform the ordinary into the wonder-ful, to elicit from the mundane the miraculous, to elevate the profane into the sacred. One can discover divinity in all things, and as such, the ‘empty’ part of the cup is the husk, the outer shell, the minor dimension of life, while the essence, the sacred kernel, represents the major part; thus the totality of all of existence can be viewed as mostly a reality of fullness.

Disasters, wars, famines, floods, illness, are all tragedies that are part and parcel of the totality of the human experience. But they occur, thankfully, only intermittently. Otherwise , life could not be sustained nor could we enjoy survival and continuity.
Without question, there is too much sorrow and suffering in the world. We are duty bound to do everything we can to alleviate that pain. Perhaps the prism of gratefulness can allow us to see more clearly a path to greater fullness for all, so that the cup of life’s bounty can be shared by all.

Monday, May 4, 2009


It's a dreary Monday morning; my students-first to fourth graders- were sleepy, listless and not very engaged . As part of my teaching commitment, I ask them to record in writing and/or in picture form what they are grateful for. One boy, who is usually alert and lively, claimed that he could not think of anything for which he was grateful, except the game of hockey."That's all I really like." As a Canadian by birth I was quite sympathetic.
"Do you play hockey, "I asked.
"No,my parents won't let me-there's too much checking!"
After a short pause he added,"But I love watching ."
"What would happen if you were blind?"I asked.
He looked up and understood. His gratefulness journal read-"I am grateful for my eyes." He handed his paper to me, a big smile on his face.

According to Jewish tradition, the first words uttered in the morning upon awakening are-"Modeh Ani"- I thank You. The starting point of this utterance of gratitude is oneself-"Ani"-"I." So few of us recognize with inner awareness the gift of who and what we are and what we have in the form of body, mind and soul. We seemed to look outside of ourselves, and overlook the miracles of being able to see, hear, feel, think, breath, taste, touch etc. The simple morning prayer attempts to raise this consciousness so that we greet each day ever more grateful and generous.
I read a letter to the editor recently from a prominent rabbi about his distaste and criticism of "spirituality" because he understood meditation and self reflection as acts of narcissism and selfishness. Little did he understand that prayer-meditation, self-reflection-is an indispensable forerunner to our concern for others and our ethical responses on behalf of those in need. "If I am not for myself"-If I cannot recognize my self and the world as a gift for which to be grateful, how then can I "be for others?"
Gratefulness without generosity is selfishness; giving without gratefulness is an important act, but mechanical and devoid of inner intention and spiritual expansiveness that can heighten our ability to relate to the world with greater compassion and generosity.

I hope that the next time this eight-year old is watching a hockey game, he will feel, if only for a moment, a sense of gratitude for his eyes and see them as his greater gift.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


"We thank You, for the miraculous deliverance,for the heroism and for the triumphs in the battles of our ancestors in those days at this season."

These words were recited in Conservative congregations on this day of Israel's 61st birthday. I imagine that most of us are familiar with these words because of their association to Hannukah and Purim;indeed, the Orthodox do not recite these words today; Somehow, al hanisim-the miracles were performed only in the distant past,and these sacred words are not to be uttered for miracles of contemporary significance.
As is the case of all prayer we are bidden to recapture ,recognize and rediscover the miraculous in our personal and collective lives.Similarly, for us to fully grasp the wonder of Israeli independence, we must look backward in time-'Bayamim ha-haym-in those days-so as to renew our sense of gratefulness and wonder at the uniqueness of that historical event.
Beyond our current cynicism and for many others, indifference, the al hanisim prayer summons us to once again enter into an experience of re-enactment, of re-living, re-membering, the original moment of Jewish national resurrection by reciting words of memory and renewal.
"In the days that Your children were returning to their borders...the gates to the land of our ancestors were closed before those who were fleeing from the sword. When enemies from within the land together with seven neighboring nations sought to annihilate Your people, You, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of trouble...You gave them courage to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge and to free the land of its armed invaders... For all these blessings we shall ever praise You."
The past beckons us to rediscover the reason for the anniversary celebration of Israel.
So mired are we in the intractable, and dangerous deadlock that stands in the way of peace, that our hearts are closed to the marvel of Jewish renewal on the land of Israel, a renewal of autonomy in all aspects of human life, a renewal of pride in achievements that encompass every field of human endeavor-from the arts to the sciences and the world of commerce, a renewal of the Jewish spirit and ethos as an eternal people. Can we forget for a moment that the gates of Israel are open to every single Jew no matter the circumstances or status of that individual? How can we not be proud knowing that millions our our brothers and sisters have been rescued because of Israel? Moreover, Israel has been a haven for refugees of other nationalities, whose only criterion for entry into the land was the human need for protection and refuge.

Sixty one years is quite a short span of time in the life of a nation; it is still middle age for individuals living in our modern age when life expectancy has soared!
Yet, so much has been done -so much has been built, restored, strengthened and revitalized as a result of the heroism of our people and the goodness of the Source of life.
How can we not be grateful? How can we not praise and rejoice, singing songs of hopeful renewal and further growth toward that eventual messianic moment of peace and well-being for all?
Go back to 1948-bayamim ha-haym-and remember- in that memory Israel lives-AM YISRAEL CHAI!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Sitting by the elevator, a blue paper gown covering my body, I waited for the procedure to begin. I closed my eyes, and began to meditate, focusing as I normally do, on what I can be grateful for at that particular time. As I mindfully toured my body, I recognized that I was pain-free; I was thankful for that blessing! Questions arose in my mind concerning the possibility of the discovery of some ailment :what is the doctor going to find as he scans the large intestine with a marvel of modern medical technology? Polyps? If so, will they be benign or , heaven forbid, malignant? Diverticulitis? a scary name that evokes much concern! Perhaps after all, nothing at all? I mindfully paid attention to the gift available to me and others living today of this technology that can bring so much preventive benefit to so many."Modeh ani lefanehcha" I heard myself recite in my mind. I entered into a space of gratitude, realizing that whatever the outcome of these tests, I, living today and not twenty years ago, have an extraordinary advantage and gift, one that can only better my health and my life.

The procedure was quick and painless. Under a mild anesthesia, I caught a very restful half hour nap. The happy culmination of the experience was evident as the doctor approached with a smile on his face and a thumbs up; all was well!

As I left the medical facility I felt myself grateful for so much-the positive outcome, the wonderful nursing and physicians' care that made the ordeal comfortable, endurable even enjoyable. Their competence, good humor and genuine kindness were all sources of profound gratitude.

Modeh Ani-I am blessed with another day on which to recognize life's many miracles.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I am particularly grateful for Passover this year;aside from all the many pleasures of Passover that are readily evident-delicious and abundant quantities of food unimagined by our grand parents, warm and wonderful Seders, a vacation from school for many, a thawing of winter's cold and the brilliant emergence of flora and fauna that spell springtime, whenever an insight occurs to me as a result of the holiday I feel particularly blessed.
What characterizes Passover liturgically is the daily recitation of Hallel- a formal sequence of Psalms that constitutes the body of praise by which we articulate our gratefulness to God for the myriad miracles and spiritual opportunities contained in the Festival experience. What struck me as unique this year was the awareness that we recite a special blessing thanking God for the Mitzvah of "reciting the Hallel."
I have pronounced this blessing for years; this year I ask myself-why a blessing? Usually the blessing precedes a physical act -lighting candles, taking the lulav and etrog, sitting in a succah, donning the talit-prayer shawl and the tefillin, phylacteries-but why a blessing and a commandment regarding reciting praise to God? We do not recite a specific blessing before we pray? Why is it that tradition found it necessary to insist on a special blessing prior to praise?
Simply, one does not need a mitzvah, a commandment, a special divine urging to pray-this comes naturally, especially in circumstances of fear and vulnerability, under conditions of need and deprivation. To petition is as natural as a baby's cry for her mother's milk.
To praise, however, to recognize and experience an attitude of gratefulness and articulate praise and thanks to a Source of that feeling of gratitude requires cultivation and special introspective and mindful awareness. To praise represents an advanced level of spiritual awareness, an inner development that religion attempts to foster and expand, deepening our attentiveness to and concern for life. What transforms the Jewish festival from a moment of mere celebration to an opportunity for grateful expression is this kind of liturgical response to the occasion of the day.
And so we are presented with a challenge and a privilege, a mitzvah, to transcend our consciousness from ourselves and our immediate environment and focus for at least a few moments on the Source of our being, of our celebratory experience and of the gift of our deliverance and liberation.
Perhaps one day our Hallel , the words of Psalms, will rise up naturally, instinctively,from the very depths of who we are so that a blessing will not be necessary to engender praise of God in our lives.
Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Passover eve is one of the busiest mornings of the Jewish year. This year for thousands it will be even more hectic as many will take time away from Passover preparations and make their way to open spaces ie. parks, fields and roof tops, to bless God for creating the sun. According to Talmudic tradition, every 28 years the sun's position in the sky is identical to when it was first created. While we can recognize the scientific inaccuracy of this understanding, its spiritual insight is a source of profound wisdom and inspiration.
Thousands will gather ,take a hurried glance at the sun-if,of course it is not overcast as it appears to be now as I write these words, and recite a blessing -"Praised are You....Source of Creation."
Why am I at my computer and not surrounded by hundreds of fellow Jews all chanting the blessing at this time? Clearly, the event is impressive, even memorable. It brings our people together and provides an opportunity for the experiencing of a profound spiritual sense of awareness of the grandeur and majesty of nature. We hopefully sensitize ourselves to recognize with utter gratefulness the gift of the sun and all of life's entire dependence upon it for survival and well-being.
My reservation regarding this ritual is connected to the natural likelihood of the rapid dissipation of this consciousness precisely because it is surrounded by so much spectacle and relegated to a one-moment experience in the context of an extended period of time. Like Mt. Sinai, with its thunder,lightening and other elaborate pyrotechnics, the sustainability of the impact is often limited. Considering that Israel only days after witnessing Sinai were quick to exhibit ingratitude and lack of faith,we can understand that built into the drama is the the tendency for the memory to recede when placed in a setting that is everyday-like and ordinary.
Let me quickly add that this blessing is a daily requirement which makes it ,I believe, a powerful instrument for on-going spiritual awareness that has the capacity to alter our perception of life and our response to it.
While there is always room for the sensational, I prefer the still, small, voice echoing in my mind as I awaken each morning, look out my window and am gifted with a vision of the sun's beauty and warmth, knowing that a Beneficent and Compassionate Reality has not only created this gift but sustains it and bestows its blessing upon us each day.
"Praised are You-I am grateful this morning as on all mornings- to the Source of Creation."Amen.

Moadim le-simchah-a joyful Pesach of sweetness and gratefulness.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Another gem from the crown of Torah worn with peerless resplendence By Rabbi J.B.Soloveitchik is a comment that I wish to share and elaborate upon with you.
Again taken from his commentary on the Haggadah-"The Seder Night-An Exalted Evening"- we are nurtured by the following words:
"The tale of the rabbis in Bene-Berak was not just an isolated historical event, but rather the perennial drama that has been enacted since antiquity, hundreds, indeed thousands, of times. The people who acted out this drama with tears and blood were not five or ten scholars, but countless individuals in each generation,anonymous fathers, unknown mothers, forgotten teachers, nursemaids, lonely souls and tragic people. All of them were involved in one task...:They were talking of 'yetziat mitzrayim,' the Exodus, all night."

What makes the Seder so powerful and enduring is our grateful recognition of the story tellers who during the night- when darkness swept over our people- evidenced the faith and courage to tell the story of survival and reassure a downtrodden people that a new generation will come forward and eagerly announce that a new day is dawning-it is morning and the "time for reciting the Kriat Shema has arrived!" The meaning of morning resides in our ability to adhere to the unshakable conviction of the Shema- of God's love for each and every member of the human community and that ultimately God is One, the underlying spiritual reality of the universe as that of unity and harmony.
It is the potency of the "sippur"-the story of the Exodus-that will enable us to link up with freedom no matter how dark and dismal the night. As long as there are story tellers, there is reason to hope, the glimmer of dawn will continue to flicker in our memory.

Hag Sameach v'kasher-A joyous and gratitude-filled Passover.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Why is this eve of Passover different from all other Passover eves?
As I prepare for this Passover, I am profoundly grateful for a commentary on the Haggadah that brings me utter spiritual joy. The commentary of Rabbi Soloveitchik, zt"l, the legendary Orthodox leader of 20th century, is a source of Torah that is all sweet.I am grateful and privileged to share one insight with you.
When commenting on the injunction-"Ve-higgadeta le-vinkha,"and you shall tell your child,"(Exodus 13:8), the Rav says the following:"The Haggadah consists of two separate components-narrative and hallel, praise."
I understand this comment to mean that the entire spiritual enterprise of Passover night, of the Seder in all its magnificent and exalted dimensions and experiences,is to instill in the participants the profound insight of gratefulness to God at this moment in our lives. The narrative itself contains the unmistakable implication of the unfolding of the miraculous and the marvelous in the Jewish experience of freedom. At the center of this event is God as the Source of miracles and the Giver of Freedom. Thus, without the inclusion of hallel,without an awareness of the gift of freedom, the Seder as an authentic experience is impossible; the narrative without praise is a mere story, not a narrative of Torah and spiritual significance.
It is no surprise to me that before the Seder can be viewed as "Nirzah"-as acceptable to God and to ourselves, as an act of completion and fulfillment, it must be preceded not only by narrative, the eating of Matzah , a full and hearty meal and the drinking of four cups, but "Hallel"-the emergence in our consciousness of feeling deep gratitude to God for the miracle of Passover. Until we can praise ,we cannot feel the quality of -Nirtzah-of completing our task and declaring -Next Year in Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Since the Seder is very much child-centered-we do many things to arouse the child's curiosity and keep her awake- the asking of the four questions assigned to the youngest member of the gathering is a much anticipated moment. Children wish to please their parents and grandparents while the latter look forward to a few moments of "Naches"-of joy and pride in the accomplishments of their young.(Not to mention the feeling of satisfaction derived from "getting one's money's worth" after investing a good deal financially in either parochial education or special congregational schooling which is also not inexpensive and somewhat of a hardship for many)
The opening word-MAH- is a pivotal word.It can have three meanings: HOW-WHAT, WHY.
The youngster stimulates discussion and narrative-the Haggadah-the telling, regarding the redemption and liberation of the Jewish people by asking HOW-WHAT, in what ways, is the night of Passover different from all other mights of the year. Moreover, she asks WHY , what is the spiritual, historical and philosophical rationale for these differences? To know the how without the why falls short of a full appreciation of the depth of the Passover experience.
I would add a third meaning to the word MAH-it is not only an initiator of a question as much as the springboard for one's sense of amazement and wonder in the face of the miraculous dimensions of Passover. One can paraphrase the opening words in this way:

"MAH -How different is tonight compared with all other nights!"

To evoke and generate a sense of the extraordinary, the marvelous, the feeling of sanctity embedded in Passover-that I believe is the great challenge of the Seder night.
By doing this we remind ourselves and teach our children of the importance of being grateful for the gifts of this celebration-freedom, redemption, rescue,renewal,family, abundance,just to highlight the major blessings. Indeed I believe the operative word of the Seder is contained in the refrain of the popular song-DAYENU, it is enough. More will be discussed about this in later postings.
Enjoy the voices of your young ones asking questions; and if there are no young ones at your table, summon forth the youthfulness and innocence of your own souls to marvel anew at the many miracles and blessings of Pesach.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The long cold winter is over, at least for those of us in the New York metropolitan area.
As warmth wafted in the air, I could not help but take notice of so many almost imperceptible changes...

My movements were slower
my head no longer lower
against wind and snow
temperatures dropping below

any point of endurance,
day after day
there was no assurance,
gloves would finally be put away

all around me I saw,
peoples faces grow soft
no longer wrinkled and raw
with eyes raised aloft

to catch the sun's rays,
shining their blessing,
a good reason to praise
our bodies caressing

I noticed with ease,
old folks ambling on,
landscapers on knees,
sowing seed on each lawn

Laughter and fun
floated over the shrubs,
school classes were done
kids carousing eating subs

feeling heightened relief,
like after a storm,
joy following grief,
that's simply life's norm

I couldn't help but consider
Nature's remarkable mystery
yesterday sunless and bitter
today a new reality

I cannot explain,
Either pleasure or pain

all I can do,
is simply say-I THANK YOU.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Not all Talmudic citations from the tractate Pesachim deal directly or exclusively with Passover-their implications can be far-reaching like the one I encountered in my studies today.
When discussing the requirement to search for the leaven in order to burn it-remove it-the notion of light emerges at the center of the Talmud's deliberations.

"A man should always enter (a town) by day ie. in a circumstance of light, 'and it was good' and set out(of town) by day ie.when it is light,when surrounded by the condition of 'and it was good.' (Pesachim 2a-2b)

If read literally, one could understand the phrase this way : One should enter in a state of -and it was good- and one should leave in a state of -and it was good!
In other words, I believe that the Talmud conveys a profound meaning of how to relate not only to Passover but to all of life as well.
Our lives are made up of comings and goings; they may be physical-going from one location to another, whether to work, school, shopping, the doctor's office, to a movie, to a wedding or a funeral.
Movement also takes place in terms of life's many changes and cycles-these too can be characterized as comings and goings. Our internal lives-our ways of thinking and feeling, our moods and dispositions, our frames of mind and heart are never static-in a constant dynamic flow, they are always in motion, coming and going.
The Talmud bids us to refer to the Biblical statement of Genesis-'and it was good'-as spiritual guidance for our lives. As we journey to the Seder table and beyond, if only we could incorporate the attitude of -and it is good-in all our movements and experiences, every step of our way through life, how grateful and liberating this could be.
Perhaps,in sharing this suggestion the Rabbis hint at the very nature of the meaning of freedom. Wherever we go-in our comings and goings-we can choose to travel not only light but gratefully and hopefully, viewing the landscape around us through the lens of -"And it is good."
When searching to remove the leaven from our hearts, let use make use of the light therein and shine away the darkness.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Prior to Passover we plunge into an orgy of food shopping, anxiously acquiring whatever we can to guarantee our satiety in spite of the many restrictions on food possession and intake. It is like leaping into the Sea Of Reeds,hoping not to be submerged in excess and to pass through without drowning in surpluses of food or worry.
I just returned with my wife from an excursion to a place of abundance that defies description. As we filled our shopping cart with one kind of food and another, in quantities far surpassing actual need, I was amazed at the optimism that takes hold of so many shoppers. Buying huge quantities suggests not only the economic hard times and the reduced cost of food if purchased in bulk, but it points to an underlying belief that the future is secure and we will still be around to enjoy all that food.
I wondered to myself how an African woman in Darfur would experience a day in a place like Cosco? Would she be able to imagine or wrap her mind around this reality or would it represent a delusion, a fantasy, that like a bubble, bursts upon awakening?
While grateful for the abundance and thankful that I would have the needed Passover provisions, I couldn't shake the thought of how so much could be shared with so many who have so little. If each individual shopping cart were reduced in quantity by one-fifth, a fifth that could be funneled to the hungry-here or elsewhere-how different our world would be! Did each shopper need bulging bags of meats, cheeses and cereals to satisfy their nutritional needs? If each bag were a drop smaller, leaner, would we not witness the lean bodies of starving children growing in size and health
in places of desperate need and want?
Is this not the desired result of sincere gratefulness, to generate compassion and to want to share?
In two and a half weeks we will be sitting down at our Seder tables to enjoy the gifts acquired today-before we begin, out of a sense of grateful thankfulness we recite: "Kol dichfin,"-Let all who are hungry join us at the table of plenty -as long as one belly hungrily growls somewhere in the world, our story of human liberation is incomplete and can not be concluded with any certainty of a happy ending.
Be grateful so that you can act compassionately.
Happy Pre-Passover

Thursday, March 19, 2009


For seven days, I sat in silence together with 35 other meditators and three marvelous teachers. Except for "daavening"-chanting prayer services, asking questions of clarification concerning the meditative practice and meeting privately with the teachers, we were expected to maintain silence when we ate, returned to our rooms, walked and sat. Needless to say, this is quite a daunting task for a rabbi, even one who is retired!
The rationale for the silence was to eliminate distractions and enhance and sharpen a sense of mindful awareness that allowed for the cultivation of a calm mind and an open heart.
I confess that I enjoy silence, and solitude. What was particularly amazing was that in fact I was never alone. I was constantly surrounded by community, and in spite of silence, our shared experience of meditating was a powerful means of communication and support.
Paying attention to the breath, becoming aware of the thinking that occupies our mind
relentlessly and randomly , are spiritual activities that deepen our consciousness and allow for the emergence of insight and heightened attentiveness to life in general.
Why did all of us subject ourselves to this exercise? Each one of us participated for individual reasons of many kinds. What unified all of us- young college students,women in middle age, retired professionals -was the desire to return to a space in our lives -our unencumbered souls that we are granted each morning, as reflected in the morning prayer that declares: " My God, the soul that You gave me is pure..." We all possess this unencumbered umbilical spot of grace where we were first touched by God.
I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to return to that spot , and wish to thank my teachers-Sylvia Boorstein, Rabbi Jeff Roth and Joanne Katz. Special acknowledgment is extended to the Isabella Friedman Jewish Retreat Center at Falls River Connecticut:a real Garden of Eden.
Shabbat Shalom


I got lost going to a rabbinic meeting this morning. I ended up in the right town but the wrong synagogue. This doesn't surprise those who know me- I am a bit absent- minded and forgetful these days. I asked the rabbi about the meeting of which he had no knowledge and in the course of the conversation indicated that the rabbi emeritus was in the sanctuary and perhaps he knew the right location of the meeting. At that moment the secretary stepped into the rabbi's office with the necessary information.
I made a point of stopping by the sanctuary to greet the colleague who had been seriously ill and is since retired.
We were pleased to see each other after a prolonged period of time and caught up with one another's whereabouts. It was a delightful exchange. He seemed happy and well; I was grateful.
I finally found the right synagogue and joined the meeting already in progress.
What could have been a source of irritation and annoyance became instead a positive and blessed occurrence.I met a new rabbi, I became reacquainted with a colleague and I experienced the kindness of strangers who helped me find my way.
Of course not all incidents of getting lost are necessarily pleasant-yet, the way we approach them can be influenced by the attitude that we are never sure where we are going and should try to cultivate an approach of being grateful for wherever we are.
A wonderful story is told of a pious rabbi who daily attended morning services in a small town. Each day, at the same hour, he passed by the plaza on the way to the synagogue, and greeted the chief of police who knew where the rabbi was going. One morning, on his way, the chief of police asked him: "Where to, Rabbi?"The rabbi replied: "I don't know!"
Incensed at what he thought was ridicule , the police chief hauled the rabbi to jail. As the door to the jail was about to close, the rabbi turned and said:" You see, I didn't know !"
What a profound truth! Wherever we set out to go, we are never sure about our planned arrivals. What applies to our daily lives is very much true about life in general.
If we do get lost, perhaps an attitude of being grateful will confer on us the ability to experience that occasion as a blessed and meaningful one.After all,perhaps our detours are indeed our destinations.

Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Shabbat didn't feel very "shabbesdik" this morning. The meditation session preceding the regular service offered me the opportunity to focus my mind on the shabbes in my soul;that was not to be-I felt nauseous ,and on top of the physical discomfort I was gripped by a feeling of emptiness and anger; even the opening prayer-my favorite-"Modeh ani lefanecha"-I thank You for the new day-somehow lost its power to elicit any gratitude from my heart. Frustration grew; isolated emotionally ,almost feeling claustrophobic, I left the service and took a stroll, considering not returning until after the service was over.It was a balmy spring-like day; I felt the need to be outdoors. In my concern that my absence would cause my wife worry, I returned to the service and took my seat alongside Rose. I sat quietly, eyes closed, unable to participate with my customary enthusiasm ,especially the singing that I enjoy so much.
As the service unfolded, Rabbi David paused in order to add a comment of spiritual import. He talked about the meaning of Yud Hay Vav Hay, the ineffable name of God,urging the congregation to try and share one understanding about this divine name, namely the Source of love leading to Oneness.I suddenly heard my name with the assurance that the love embedded in God's name was being directed to me and to the congregation.
The painful and dark stoniness in my heart was softened and a space for light slowly opened. A few minutes later, the most adorable child was brought into the shul carried lovingly by her aunt, Ariel, Rabbi David's wife. I turned to catch a glimpse of her and my heart melted further. The cherubic face of a child and the angelic concern of Rabbi David cleansed my heart of its blockage and constriction, and allowed me to receive the joy and serenity of Shabbes back into my heart.
Rather than the beginning of the service, the "Modeh Ani lefanecha" prayer succeeded in touching my sense of gratefulness at the conclusion of the prayers. As I recited the prayer for a second time, not only did I direct my attention to God; Rabbi David too was the focal point of my thanks and gratitude.
Thank you, mori v'rabi-my teacher and my master.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


The story of Purim contained in the scroll-megillah-of Esther is considered by scholars as not entirely historical; as a matter of fact, most serious students of the Bible understand this work as an expression of the Jewish people's perception of its precariousness in exile and the relief provided by the miraculous turn of events that conferred defeat upon Israel's enemies and victory for the Jewish people. The story is entertaining, melodramatic, suspenseful and illuminating ,all at the same time.
Perhaps its lesson can be extracted from the theme of unpredictability and reversal as a natural part of life's unfolding.
If we examine each character in the story-Haman the villain, Mordechai and Esther,the hero and heroine respectively, the larger background cast of players-the Jews of Persia, we discover how the end of the story marks a total reversal of each one's status from the story's beginning.At the outset, Haman is elevated in rank. At the conclusion he is ironically elevated as he swings from the gallows fifty cubits high; Mordechai and Esther are anonymous Jews in exile; by the end of the Megillah they are celebrities; the Jewish people finds itself as victim in the throes of imminent catastrophe as the narrative unravels; they are victors and celebrants at the story's close.
Is life not like this? Witness today's economic realities; only a short while ago, affluence was certain and growing; homes skyrocketed in value, the stock market's gains only burgeoned in size and third world economies were exploding with prosperity.
Today, the world economy is in the doldrums; amidst confusion, anger and fear, we find ourselves victims of phenomena over which we had no control and of which few had any understanding .
The story of Purim and today's world coincide to inform us painfully and dramatically that life is indeed invariably a process of ups and downs, reversals and changes.
Perhaps if we were to consider Purim's message more carefully , we would be more inclined to prepare and protect ourselves against upheavals that occur as a natural component of the workings of the natural world.
Awareness of this unpredictability could cushion us emotionally and spiritually so that at the end of the day we could have the strength and the hope to recognize that the gifts of "Light, joy, gladness and honor" is a God-given gift in all the circumstance of our existence.
Purim thus reminds us to be thankful for this understanding and awareness.
Happy Purim