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.