IN JEWISH TRADITION when celebrating a special occasion or showing gratitude for a new and unusual experience, we recite a blessing from the Talmud called the shehechyanu.
In this blessing, we thank God for having given us life, sustained us and brought us to this moment.
Reciting blessings is an important part of Jewish life. We are taught that we should actually recite at least 100 blessings a day.
Assuming one is awake for 16 hours, that would mean during a 960-minute day, we would need to say a blessing about every nine minutes.
Of course, we can all think of things for which we should show gratitude, but 100 daily blessings feels like an onerous task.
So why is there such an emphasis on being grateful in Judaism?
The sages understood that it seems to be a part of human nature to focus on the negative and neglect what is good in our lives. The Hebrew phrase for gratitude, “Hakafot Ha’tov,” translates as a “recognition of the good.”
How often we grumble and complain about all that is going wrong but fail to see the good. It’s so easy to feel gratitude when all is going well … not so much when life hands us challenges.
Gratitude is one of the traits studied in the Jewish Mussar tradition where one is encouraged to reflect on various human characteristics in a very deliberate manner.
Using a conscious, intentional focus, we learn to recognize the importance of finding balance in these traits, and with daily meditation, this focus can become a habit.
Alan Morinis, in his book on the practice of Mussar, “Every Day, Holy Day,” points out the importance of gratitude: “If you’ve lost your job but you still have your family and health, you have something to be grateful for. If you can’t move around except in a wheelchair but your mind is as sharp as ever, you have something to be grateful for.”
The importance of practicing gratitude is seen by many as crucial to a well-lived life. Eckhart Tolle said, “It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.” American author Melody Beattie says, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
A direct result of being grateful for our blessings is the recognition that others are not so lucky, and we are nudged to extend our hand in help.
We understand that because we have so much more than others, we dedicate ourselves to doing what we can to ease their burdens, thus working toward the goal of tikun olam, repairing the world.
John F. Kennedy pointed out: “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
“Live your life from your heart. Share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal people’s souls. Each moment in time we have it all, even when we think we don’t” (Beattie).
Practice gratitude every day in your life, and you will not only develop empathy for those who have less, but you will also realize all the blessings you truly have.
As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch taught, “First become a blessing to yourself so that you may become a blessing to others.”
Kein yehi Ratzen … may it be God’s will. Shalom.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community.