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gratitude Riverton Mussar - a wellspring for ethical change. Our vision is to build a physical and virtual community devoted to good character in relationships through the integration of Torah, Besorah(Gospels), and Jewish Tradition. http://rivertonmussar.org Tue, 12 Dec 2017 15:50:27 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb a platform of gratitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/758-a-platform-of-gratitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/758-a-platform-of-gratitude

art-morningsunSince I’m working on the middah of gratitude this week, I want to focus on the morning blessings, Birkot ha-shachar, in my daily prayers. These blessings all start with the foundational six words, Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu melech ha-olam, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe,” and then go on to thank God for a specific gift—for opening our eyes, providing clothing, giving us a firm step, giving strength to the weary. By reciting these blessings—fourteen in the Koren Siddur that I use—I can build my day on a platform of gratitude.

This is a practice not just for this week, but for permanent application. As I’m focusing on it, however, I remember a verse in Hebrews: “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior” (Heb. 7:7). The context is the meeting of Melchizedek and Abraham, when Melchizedek blessed Abraham, thereby, Hebrews claims, demonstrating his superiority over our patriarch. But if it’s true that the inferior is blessed by the superior, how can we say that we bless God, our ultimate superior, in the morning prayers?

I’ve heard some translations of the Siddur that get around this dilemma by translating the opening words of the blessings as “Praised be the Lord . . .” or “The Lord our God is to be thanked.” The Annotated Jewish New Testament takes a whole different tack, contradicting Hebrews. Commenting on the inferior is blessed by the superior, it says: “the reverse is frequent; Melchizedek himself blesses ‘God Most High’ (Gen. 14:20).” 

But I think there’s a better way of understanding this dilemma, which supports Hebrews 7:7 and sheds light on the middah of gratitude as well. Genesis says of Melchizedek, Vay’varechehu “And he blessed him [Abraham],” and then he said baruch Avram, “blessed is Avram.” Melchizedek added after that, “and blessed is God.” It’s as if Melchizedek first bestows blessing upon Abraham and as a result says he is blessed. In God’s case, however, the Torah doesn’t say that Melchizedek blessed him, but only that he said that God is blessed. Melchizedek bestows blessing on Abraham, and recognizes that God is blessed in himself, inherently blessed; as the Siddur says, he is ha-M’vorach, the Blessed One.

So there’s the reality of bestowing a blessing, as a superior does to an inferior, and the reality of recognizing a blessing that another already possesses. This distinction ties right into our definition of gratitude as hakarat ha-tov, recognizing the good. In the morning, when we recite the blessings, we’re not imparting a blessing upon God—as if we could!—but we’re recognizing that he is the Blessed One, who bestows upon us manifold gifts. We don’t want to take these gifts for granted, so we begin our day by affirming them as coming from the Blessed One. This affirmation sets us up to practice gratitude throughout the day, recognizing the good around us and expressing thanks to the One who is the source of it all. 

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mesorah Mon, 03 Nov 2014 19:55:40 +0000
hard-won gratitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/719-hard-won-gratitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/719-hard-won-gratitude

art-desertjourneyI’d hate to cite one of our patriarchs as a bad example, but at first glance our father Yaakov doesn’t seem to express gratitude when Yosef presents him to Pharaoh. The king asks, “How many are the years of your life?” and Yaakov answers, “The years of my sojourn are one hundred and thirty. Few and hard have been the years of my life, nor do they come up to the life spans of my fathers during their sojourns” (Gen. 47:8–9). Gratitude is hikarat ha-tov, recognizing the good, but Yaakov seems to focus on the bad instead.

The context of Yaakov’s statement, however, may help explain his apparent ingratitude. The Egyptians consider 110 years to be the ideal life-span, similar to the Hebrew ideal of 120. Yaakov has already exceeded that by twenty years and needs to be careful not to appear to gloat in the presence of Pharaoh. At the same time, he embraces the stature that his years afford him, as he both enters (47:7) and leaves (47:10) the presence of Pharaoh by blessing him, and “it is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior” (Heb. 7:7). Yaakov wisely downplays this superiority by recounting the difficulties of his earthly sojourn.

We see another aspect of gratitude as hikarat ha-tov as we continue in this story, though. The Egyptian peasants strike a deal with Yosef to sell themselves into bondage in exchange for grain, telling Yosef, “You have saved our lives! We are grateful to my lord, and we shall be serfs to Pharaoh” (Gen. 47:25 NJPS). Nahum Sarna comments, “a moral judgment on the situation is subtly introduced into the narrative by shifting the onus of responsibility for the fate of the peasants from Joseph to the Egyptians themselves. The peasants initiate the idea of their own enslavement (v. 19) and [now] express gratitude when it is implemented!” In other words, the Egyptians are too quick to recognize the good in a situation that involves great compromise.

Gratitude, like every middah, must be expressed in balance. “Gratitude out of whack,” as our Riverton Mussar introduction notes, can lead us to “placate or puff up unnecessarily those who have given to us,” and that seems to be the case here.

When the Egyptians say they are “grateful” to Yosef, they literally say, “we have found favor in [your] eyes.” Yaakov uses the same phrase with Yosef a few verses later: “If I have found favor in your eyes, please place your hand under my thigh and act toward me in kindness and truth and please do not bury me in Egypt” (Gen. 47:29; literal translation). The peasants consider it a great favor just to be allowed to survive in Egypt; Yaakov looks ahead to the greater promise of deliverance from Egypt.

Recognizing the good, then, sometimes also requires recognizing the not-so-good. But we still must cultivate gratitude by expressing it for the good that we recognize. In the end Yaakov comes through on that account, and provides the example for us. He says to Yosef, “I never expected to see you again, and here God has let me see your children as well.” Yaakov recognizes that the end of his sojourn, hard though it may have been, reflects the promise and faithfulness of the Almighty.

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torah Sun, 23 Dec 2012 17:12:15 +0000
I have plenty! http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/609-i-have-plenty http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/609-i-have-plenty

art-goldOne of the biggest surprises in the narrative of Genesis comes during Yaakov’s reunion with Esau when he returns to the land of Canaan. When Esau comes to meet his brother with a menacing entourage of 400 men, but when he sees Yaakov, he runs to embrace him and weep together with him at their reunion (Gen. 33:4).

Now, remember, this is the Esau who had vowed to murder Yaakov in retribution for “stealing” his blessing and birthright (27:41–42). Indeed, it’s because of this vow that Yaakov has spent twenty years in exile from the promised land, hiding from the wrath of his brother. But now we see a different side of Esau. He asks about the droves of livestock that Yaakov had sent to him to precede his own arrival:

 

“What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” (Gen. 33:8–9)

The Jewish sages tend to distrust Esau’s behavior here, and suspect that he’s up to no good, but I disagree. Esau is an impulsive, passionate man. That leads to his failings, especially his greatest failing, when he despises his own birthright and sells it on the spot to Jacob for the privilege of gulping down a bowl of stew (Gen. 25:34). His passion is evident in his cries to Isaac when he realized that Jacob has received the blessing intended for him: “Bless me, me also, father!” (Gen. 27:34, 38). And this same passion makes his threat to kill Yaakov all too believable.

But now, at Esau’s reunion with Yaakov, his passion is transformed into a nobility of character as he welcomes his brother with a kiss and tears and refuses his gift of appeasement. What transforms it? Three words in Hebrew—yesh li rav, “I have plenty”—which make up the basic cry of gratitude. When Esau utters these words he rises above his own sorry role in the saga of Genesis. For the moment, at least, he forgets all that Yaakov has supposedly taken from him, all that he has lost, and declares, “I have plenty, I have enough, and I’m grateful for that!”

I’m basing my practice of mussar this year on the Shema, including the great commandment, “V’ahavata, you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” As I wrote in the last cycle, “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.” Gratitude is a product of wholehearted love for God, as rav Shaul instructs us, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua” (1 Thess. 5:18 TLV).

In everything give thanks: We don’t know whether Esau maintained the habit of saying yesh li rav, but we can make it part of our daily practice of gratitude. If we have HaShem in our lives, no matter what else we may have or not have, we can always say, Yesh li rav—I have plenty!

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torah Sun, 12 Feb 2012 20:19:53 +0000
grateful for you http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/608-grateful-for-you http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/608-grateful-for-you

art-gift2Gratitude usually comes easily when receiving a gift (assuming it’s a gift we want). When a friend shows kindness towards me, it is very easy to be consciously grateful for that friend. It is a sad reality that it is difficult to maintain consistent, conscious gratefulness for the people in our lives beyond the times they seem to most demonstrate kindness towards us.

Even more, it is hard to admit that the gratitude we do have is most often a result of what others have done for us. Paul gives us an example of gratitude worthy of pondering:

 

“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Messiah Yeshua, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Messiah was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Messiah Yeshua…” -- 1 Corinthians 1:4–7, NKJV

I can truly say I am thankful to God for my fiancée, community, family, job, etc. It is much rarer for me to readily sense gratitude for what God has done in the lives of others I know. This may come in moments when witnessing a person engage in t’shuva (repentance), or when hearing a testimony of God’s provision. Nevertheless, I have been struck by my own poverty of awareness to even think to thank God for the fact that he has given gifts to those I know. It’s a little embarrassing!

I wonder what it would be like if I were grateful for more than only what I have, but also for what others have. Growth in gratitude to God for the gifts he has given others can only help us to be more grateful for him, not just what he has done for us. Furthermore, such an approach can make us more thankful for others, not just what others do for us.

I pray that as we flex our gratitude muscles this season, more than we are grateful for things and our own self-satisfaction we can all grow to be exceedingly grateful for people and God.

Grateful for you

Benjamin Ehrenfeld

      Gratitude usually comes easily when receiving a gift (assuming it’s a gift we want). When a friend shows kindness towards me, it is very easy to be consciously grateful for that friend. It is a sad reality that it is difficult to maintain consistent, conscious gratefulness for the people in our lives beyond the times they seem to most demonstrate kindness towards us. Even more it is hard to admit that the gratitude we do have is most often a result of what others have done for us. Paul gives us an example of gratitude worthy of pondering:

“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Messiah Yeshua, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Messiah was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Messiah Yeshua…”

1 Corinthians 1:4–7, NKJV

I can truly say I am thankful to God for my fiancée, community, family, job, etc. It is much rarer for me to readily sense gratitude for what God has done in the lives of others I know. This may come in moments when witnessing a person engage in t’shuva (repentance), or when hearing a testimony of God’s provision. Nevertheless, I have been struck by own poverty of awareness to even think to thank God for the fact that he has given gifts to those I know. It’s a little embarrassing!

I wonder what it would be like if I were grateful for more than only what I have, but also for what others have. Growth in gratitude to God for the gifts he has given others can only help us to be more grateful for him, not just what he has done for us. Furthermore, such an approach can make us more thankful for others, not just what others do for us.

I pray that as we flex our gratitude muscles this season, more than we are grateful for things and our own self-satisfaction we can all grow to be exceedingly grateful for people and God. 

Grateful for you

Benjamin Ehrenfeld

Gratitude usually comes easily when receiving a gift (assuming it’s a gift we want). When a friend shows kindness towards me, it is very easy to be consciously grateful for that friend. It is a sad reality that it is difficult to maintain consistent, conscious gratefulness for the people in our lives beyond the times they seem to most demonstrate kindness towards us. Even more it is hard to admit that the gratitude we do have is most often a result of what others have done for us. Paul gives us an example of gratitude worthy of pondering:

“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Messiah Yeshua, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Messiah was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Messiah Yeshua…”

1 Corinthians 1:4–7, NKJV

I can truly say I am thankful to God for my fiancée, community, family, job, etc. It is much rarer for me to readily sense gratitude for what God has done in the lives of others I know. This may come in moments when witnessing a person engage in t’shuva (repentance), or when hearing a testimony of God’s provision. Nevertheless, I have been struck by own poverty of awareness to even think to thank God for the fact that he has given gifts to those I know. It’s a little embarrassing!

I wonder what it would be like if I were grateful for more than only what I have, but also for what others have. Growth in gratitude to God for the gifts he has given others can only help us to be more grateful for him, not just what he has done for us. Furthermore, such an approach can make us more thankful for others, not just what others do for us.

I pray that as we flex our gratitude muscles this season, more than we are grateful for things and our own self-satisfaction we can all grow to be exceedingly grateful for people and God.

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besorah Sun, 12 Feb 2012 20:17:06 +0000
a plaque on the wall http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/559-a-plaque-on-the-wall http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/559-a-plaque-on-the-wall

art-plaqueIn our society, we have institutionalized the practice of gratitude. People say "thank you" without thinking, and without any genuine sense of thanks.  It's become a meaningless courtesy, like "Goodbye," which originally meant "God Be with Ye."

We've done the same thing with gratuities.  Tips used to mean "To Insure Promptness" but now they are expected at restaurants, and for a cab driver, and sometimes are automatically added to the bill, whether we like it or not.

In religious circles, people are more than willing to praise God, and bless his Name, but we are pretty bad at showing gratitude toward one another.  It reminds me of a line in the movie, "Raisin in the Sun."  Sidney Poitier played a not-so-religious Baptist who helps a group of German nuns living the the desert to build their chapel.  He brings building materials and spends his time and energy helping them.  In the end, they give thanks to God.  Poitier complains to the head nun and said it's great that you thank God, but how about thanking me?  I did all the work!   The nun replied, "No, we thank God; you couldn't help yourself."

Perhaps we think that the people who extend their efforts and money and time just can't help themselves too.  The reality is, everyone likes and needs the encouragement of being told their work and efforts are appreciated.  I belong to several organizations for which I do work without pay, just because I want to serve.  That's fine because I like to be useful and make a contribution.  Not one of them however, does anything to show appreciation.  In the more than 30 years I have been involved with these groups, it would have been nice to get some kind of plaque or expression of gratitude for all the work I did.  I don't need a plaque, I don't do this stuff for plaques, but it would have been a nice token of appreciation, for them to say, thanks, we value all you did.

My father was an active member of the Knights of Pythias lodge for many years.  He always volunteered, spent time on his day off getting things ready for lodge meetings, and faithfully did what they needed to have done.  One thing they did right, was thanking people.  If you volunteered and did work, you got a plaque.  My father didn't need plaques either, but he had a wall full of them.  They were tangible tokens of appreciation for work he didn't have to do that helped build up the organization.  To this day, he still has a dozen of them on his walls.  I don't need plaques either, but when I get one, I would put it on the wall, if nothing else, as a sign that someone at some time, appreciated something I did.

When we show appreciation in the presence of our community and colleagues, its a good feeling.  It makes you feel like the sacrifices you made were worth it.  Most of us live sacrificial lives, and its not because of a plaque.  It still makes you feel good to get the recognition a plaque symbolizes.  I know many people who have served faithfully over the years and they never got any recognition.  They didn't do it for that, and when they were done, they got a moment of applause to show appreciation, but they left burned out.  They often never serve again, and they feel unappreciated for their efforts.  As humans, we have on some level, a need to be appreciated.  Gratitude, even on a token level, goes a long way toward making someone feel that what they did was worthwhile.  It makes you feel good you did it.

I've worked in Eastern Europe for almost two decades.  They are not big on plaques, but I always knew they appreciated what I did.  Their kindness and generosity in the midst of their poverty meant a lot to me.  This past summer, a group of Jewish combatants and survivors of the war in Poland gave me an award for my humanitarian work with Holocaust survivors.  I never did it for the plaque, but it sure felt good to get it.  Tears came to my eyes; not because it was a plaque, but the expression of thanks meant so much.   We need to do better expressing thanks to people who sacrifice their time and efforts and energies in our work.  Its a little thing that can mean a lot.

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daily living Tue, 15 Nov 2011 21:03:59 +0000
a year of gratitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/558-a-year-of-gratitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/558-a-year-of-gratitude

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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torah Sun, 13 Nov 2011 07:50:41 +0000
forgetful or ungrateful? http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/557-forgetful-or-ungrateful? http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/557-forgetful-or-ungrateful?

art-walkway-tilesOn his way to Yerushalayim he was passing between Shomron and the Galil.  As he came to a certain village, ten metzora'im came to greet him. They stood at a distance.  They lifted their voice and called, "Yeshua! Teacher! Be gracious to us!"  He saw them and said to them, "Go and be shown to the priests." When they went, they were purified.  When one of them saw that he was healed, he returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at his feet and thanked him.  He was a Shomroni.  Yeshua responded and said, "Were not ten purified? Where are the other nine?  Was not anyone found that would return to give glory to God except for this one foreigner?  He said to him, "Arise and go. Your faith has saved you." -- Luke 17:11-19, DHE

They cried out.  They were desperate.  They begged for mercy so they wouldn't have to endure the shame and hardship anymore.  And then what?  They either lacked memory or gratitude and forgot to return to give thanks for the saving grace that spared them from separation and difficulty.  Why did the lepers, save one, fail to show any sort of gratitude?

Perhaps this story seems far too familiar in our lives.  But it need not be and even more so, it shouldn't be.  Developing a culture of gratitude is not only courteous, it is key in staying spiritually well.

forget me not

The striking thing about expressing gratitude is that the truly righteous won't stop giving, even if they go unappreciated or unthanked. I don't doubt Mashiach Yeshua would have kept on healing even if no one had ever expressed thanks to Hashem for the wonders and miracles. But gratitude is so much more than the giver receiving acknowledgement of a deed well done. It is deeper than that.  I believe it has more to do with the recipient feeling remembered through this expression of thanks as well as the giver.  The gratitude expressed helps the recipient to recall that he/she was remembered, loved, cared for and is valuable through whatever act was bestowed, and in turn that love is returned to the giver.  There is something profound in thanking someone that makes us feel special and brings good will, whether it be with our Creator or our fellow.  We realize we are not forgotten, we are important. 

Expressing gratitude is also a healthy component in spiritual well-being.  When we forget to show appreciation for the gifts we have been given and the kindness that has been shown to us, we can grow callous and feel as if we are entitled to whatever, whenever.  This is spiritually detrimental and can create a culture in our lives of feeling depraved when we don't have what we think we should have, growing accustomed to what we have and despising it, and spurning the blessings in our life because they come effortlessly at times.  It is a sad spiral that begins to happen when we forget to show our thankfulness for even the smallest of things. We can go from being satisfied to completely miserable.

the cure

As the lepers were healed, only one was truly healed in my mind: the one who returned to give thanks.  Though physically healed, he was also spiritually healed and felt remembered; due to this, he was able to give thanks and I am certain it felt good to do so. Through this acknowledgment of his renewed condition, he was not only connecting to a source that gave him love; he was reciprocating and sharing that love. It was no doubt life-changing and spiritually nourishing.

For us, we would do well to follow this example and be quick to express our thanks in an audible voice—to Hashem, to our fellow—for whatever goodness is bestowed upon us.  Don't hesitate or be lax in your thanks, lest you become like the other nine lepers who didn't get around to showing their gratefulness. Rise up and show your gratitude.

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besorah Sun, 13 Nov 2011 07:45:05 +0000
and you shall bless Hashem http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/554-and-you-shall-bless-hashem http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/554-and-you-shall-bless-hashem

art-shabbat-tableAnd you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land He has given you. --Devarim 8:10, NASB

The Birkat Hamazon, also known as Grace after Meals, is among the most ancient prayers in the Jewish liturgy.  Composed of many blessings, depending on holiday, day of the week and what has been eaten, it is comprehensive and thanks Hashem for not only the food but many other blessings at the same time.  In addition to that, it also beseeches Hashem in the midst of thanksgiving for continued blessing so that we may continue to thank Hashem in the future. 

continued blessing

So why not just mutter a simple "thanks" for what we have eaten and move on with it?  Why does all this continued blessing, thanks and supplication come in just over a simple meal?  Our Sages, being comprehensive and thoughtful, actually are helping us accomplish more than expressing simple gratitude.  Beyond a mere thanks, we are engaging in far-reaching measures through our expression of blessings; this after-meal formula seeks to procure future blessings, future food and well-being.  It's like going to the gas station, filling up your tank, and electing to procure future tanks of gas at the same time.

During the first blessing, we do thank Hashem for giving food to all creatures and extol His name. Within that blessing of thanksgiving, we also ask that He would continue to help us so that we can continue to give Him thanks.  It comes full-circle and is framed in such a way that mutual blessing allows continued mutual blessing.  This blessing is the most straightforward in its application, and most would find this to have little mystery after eating a sandwich or any meal.

Where this formula starts to diverge from what we would perceive as necessary is the second blessing, as it relates to our opening verse above.  In this second blessing, now we are blessing Hashem for the land, making us free, giving us the Torah and all of the mitzvot,  and His miracles which support us in every day and hour.  This goes beyond the food, which is the reason we are saying the Birkat Hamazon in the first place.  As we continue with the third and fourth blessings, we ask that Hashem rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, and thank Hashem for being good to us as well as His continued goodness.  In addition, there are various blessings for holidays, Shabbat and other occasions to be inserted as appropriate.

Why?  Why can't we say a simple blessing relating to the food and move on with it?  Even shortened versions of the Birkat Hamazon still have these various prescriptions for the blessings condensed, so as to make sure we don't omit these required elements.  What gives?

it's all connected

It's more than just a nosh.  More than just a bowl of "red stuff", as Esav so boorishly requested.  Food is not just a means to satisfy our stomachs but something which readies us for the performance of mitzvot, brings us to higher yearning for the Temple, causes us to seek the Messiah to return, and is the means to help us perform the divine will.  By recalling our exodus from Mizrayim and all the miracles Hashem did for us, we connect food with life, true happiness and our Creator.  This comprehensive thankfulness is a means to truly appreciate what food is.  It is tasty to be sure, but it is so much more.

The next time you have a meal, savor each bite and take in more than the flavors.  Begin meditating on the themes mentioned above even before you have to say the Birkat Hamazon.  I can almost guarantee that the blessing you will make when you are finished eating will not only have more meaning, but will roll with sweetness from your mouth as you contemplate the fullness of what you have received.

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mesorah Fri, 11 Nov 2011 21:00:21 +0000
thank you for being here today http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/553-thank-you-for-being-here-today http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/553-thank-you-for-being-here-today

art-groceries2“Thank you for being here today,” my mom would say to every cashier, bagger, customer service worker, etc. for as many years as I can remember. She would often get varying responses. Every now and then there would be a smile, or the person would strike up a conversation. There were even times that my mom would get a dirty look! When I was younger, I never really understood why my mom did it. Was she really thankful that particular person was bagging her groceries? Mostly I thought this couldn’t really be the case. She would even say it to the people who were rude. I didn’t get it.

My sophomore year in college I got a part-time job as a cashier/bagger at a local grocery store. A few months into it I found myself being the punching bag for a great many over-worked, over-tired, affection deprived New Englanders. I was called a racist for closing my lane right before a person of color was planning on using it. I was called an idiot for not bagging a lady’s groceries “properly.” I was generally treated as if many people were either indifferent to my being there (at best) or really wishing that I wasn’t. This was when I discovered why my mother thanks the people she does. Of course she expects workers to be manning checkout lanes, but it is worthwhile to thank the specific person who is providing an often thankless service. Maybe if more people did so, cashiers and baggers might even become thankful to be there too.

Gratitude rarely comes as consistently as it ought to. There is always the temptation to focus only on the estimation of the quality of what is being received, even at the expense of the effort exerted to give. I am not particularly grateful for long lines, the price of milk, malfunctioning registers, or any number of rich-white-people problems faced in grocery stores. However, I can say I am grateful for the person behind the counter who is doing a job that truly blesses so many people every day. With that, I would like to encourage all of us to be grateful for those people who may rarely get the thanks they deserve. It’s the least we can do for the God who gave us life itself.

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daily living Fri, 11 Nov 2011 20:48:39 +0000
more than a cupful http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/544-more-than-a-cupful http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/544-more-than-a-cupful

art-coffeeRabbi Salanter once noticed that a fancy restaurant was charging a huge price for a cup of coffee. He approached the owner and asked why the coffee was so expensive. After all, some hot water, a few coffee beans and a spoonful of sugar could not amount to more than a few cents.

The owner replied: "It is correct that for a few cents you could have coffee in your own home. But here in the restaurant, we provide exquisite decor, soft background music, professional waiters, and the finest china to serve your cup of coffee."

Rabbi Salanter's face lit up. "Oh, thank you very much! I now understand the blessing of Shehakol -- 'All was created by His word' -- which we recite before drinking water. You see, until now, when I recited this blessing, I had in mind only that I am thanking the Creator for the water that He created. Now I understand the blessing much better. 'All' includes not merely the water, but also the fresh air that we breathe while drinking the water, the beautiful world around us, the music of the birds that entertain us and exalt our spirits, each with its different voice, the charming flowers with their splendid colors and marvelous hues, the fresh breeze -- for all this we have to thank God when drinking our water!"

We seldom realize how much work goes into making something happen, whether it be a cup of coffee or a plane.  Sometimes we just have the disposition that we want it on time and without a hitch.

But what went into the coffee? The plane?  Rabbi Salanter is giving us some enhanced insight that it isn't just the bean or the water that makes it so special.  All of the love and labor beyond the cup is what we should be grateful for on a daily basis.  When we approach our office at work, someone took the time to empty the trash and the recycling.  The floors were vacuumed.  The dinner was made at home.  The groceries were purchased.  The person at the intersection yielded.  The trash was taken away.  The sun came out today.

When we develop a more honed sense of gratitude, nothing is taken for granted.  Everything has meaning and is wonderful.  When we are aware of the blessings around us, life seems more beautiful and amazing. 

As you go through your week, take time to be thankful for every blessing and express it.  Don't let a moment go by when you are not expressing your gratitude for the wonders that surround you.  Drink them in and express your gratitude to Hashem for all of them, as well as to your fellow.

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stories Thu, 03 Nov 2011 04:30:27 +0000
gratitude flowering from within http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/543-gratitude-flowering-from-within http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/543-gratitude-flowering-from-within

The Hebrew word for gratitude is hikarat hatovHikarat hatov literally means "recognizing the good." When we look around at our circumstances and our blessings and seek reason to express our gratitude, then we are truly exemplifying the middah of gratitude.

If we look upon our blessings and regard them as things we expect to have, we are missing out on gratitude.  Nothing is guaranteed in this life.  Everything we have is a gift, and we should respond in kind.

Sensitize yourself to the blessings around you and practice this simple meditation daily:

You are alive today.  This, in and of itself, is a gift.  Breathe deeply in and out and regulate this breathing. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. This is also a gift to your body.

Focus on the verse:

Hodu L'Adonai Ki Tov, Ki L'Olam Chasdo.

הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי-טוֹב:  כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

Give thanks to Hashem for he is good and his mercy endures forever.

Tehillim 118:1

Concentrate on this verse. Consider all your blessings, from rising in the morning to eating, breathing, walking, drinking, etc...

There is nothing you have today that did not arise from the chesed of Hashem.  As you keep repeating this verse, keep counting your blessings and calling to mind all of the bounty that you have.  Do not think about what you don't have; rather,  focus on all that has been given to you.

This exercise will help you achieve mental focus, awareness of your behavior, and a moment to illustrate your necessary work with regard to gratitude. If you are easily able to recall your blessings and come before Hashem in gratitude, you can better participate in your daily walk knowing how much you have to offer and how fortunate you are.

 

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meditation Thu, 03 Nov 2011 03:51:06 +0000
questions to ask yourself http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/528-questions-to-ask-yourself http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/528-questions-to-ask-yourself

art-questionsUse these questions to evaluate your day:

  1. What were the seeds that started to erode your gratitude today?
  2. Did you take time to express gratitude to those around you for who they are and what they do?
  3. Did you take time to notice the bounty in your life and express your gratitude through words or actions?
  4. Were you able to take an unpleasant situation and see the lesson in it?
  5. Did someone do something for you and it was difficult to be grateful? Why?
  6. After you ate your meals today did you take time to thank Hashem for the food?
  7. Did you thank anyone above and beyond what was necessary?
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accounting Thu, 03 Nov 2011 02:23:14 +0000
quotes http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/527-quotes-gratitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/all/item/527-quotes-gratitude

art-pearls

"The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad." -- Tehillim 118:24

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows." -- James 1:17

"They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." -- Lamentations 3:23

"You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise You forever." -- Tehillim 30:11-12

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." -- Romans 8:28

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." -- Mishlei 13:12

"At midnight I rise to give You thanks for your righteous laws." -- Tehillim 119.62

"I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise Your name, and the upright will live in your presence." --Tehillim 140:12-13

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them? -- Kohelet 3:22

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will… -- I Thessalonians 5:18

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. -- Ephesians 1:16

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. -- Philippians 4.6

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. -- Devarim 8:10

 

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quotes Thu, 03 Nov 2011 02:09:33 +0000