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.

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