middot adaptability torah a year of gratitude

a year of gratitude

Written by  rabbi russ resnik

art-morning-coffeeI’m basing my practice of mussar on the Shema for the next cycle or two. I’m inspired to do this just from learning the Shema more deeply the past few months, and also by some recent reading, including The Year of Living like Jesus by Ed Dobson.

Dobson is a prominent evangelical pastor who reads The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs, a secular Jew, and is so impressed that “someone had taken the Bible seriously enough to attempt to live it out” that he asks,


As a Gentile and a follower of Jesus, what if I were to take the teachings of Jesus seriously? What if I were to try to live like Jesus lived? What if I tried to do some of the things Jesus did?

Maybe just for a year.

It’s a good read, and surprisingly inspiring, especially as Dobson touches on his battle with ALS (Lou Gehring disease), a grim, degenerative, and incurable affliction. Toward the end of the book, Dobson evaluates his experiment:

One of the many good things about this year has been that when I get up every morning, I focus on reading the Gospels and trying to live like Jesus instead of focusing on my latest muscle that doesn’t work. Focusing on Jesus and his teachings keeps me from unduly focusing on my own disease and deterioration.

Now, when I get up every morning, I don’t worry about my health, which is excellent, thank God. But my mind does tend to rev up with all kinds of worries and kvetches . . . until I remember the commandment that I’m working on these days: “V’ahavata, you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” When I’m wholehearted in my love for God, it doesn’t leave much room for worrying and kvetching. I realize that these are really just different forms of ingratitude—lamenting what I’ve lost, or never had, or might not have much longer, instead of being thankful for what I do have.

Wholehearted love for God leaves little room for ingratitude. Paradoxically, though, it still makes plenty of room for gratitude. In learning to know God, love and gratitude go hand in hand.

Some of my colleagues this week have reminded me that it’s just as important to express gratitude to other people as to God. That brings up a second commandment, the second V’ahavata, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If that love is real we have to be express it to those around us, which can be a simple matter of being sure to thank someone who may not even be expecting it. When you work on loving God with your whole heart, soul, and strength, you cultivate a personal climate of thankfulness that will come out not just toward God but toward the humans in your neighborhood as well.

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