By Evie Weinstein
This week’s Torah portion, K’Doshim, calls upon us to reach for kedusha, or holiness to spark the divinity in each of us. K’Doshim gives us directions which instruct us how to live a moral and ethical life. This parsha has lately been of great significance to me.
These past two years have been difficult ones. We worry about our loved ones’ health and wellbeing. When we listen to more than 15 minutes of cable news, our fears multiply with one frightening news story after the next; health concerns, anti-Semitism, racial injustice, political divisions, hunger, mental illness, and a myriad of other issues that plague our world. And closer to home, we have lost community members to tragedy and illness which are unbearable.
On a recent Zoom call with a Mussar group that I participate in, we were talking about our deep problems, fears, and sorrows. We consoled and listened to each of our stories with compassion and kindness. What occurred to me after the call ended was, why didn’t I share the joys and goodness in my life. I have so much to be grateful for and I didn’t mention any of that. I recognized that this wonderful group of women did not even know how much gratitude I have in my life because I dwelled on my feelings of sadness and worry.
Rabbi Eric S. Gurvis in The Mussar Torah Commentary suggests that understanding and practicing of the Jewish value of gratitude or in Hebrew, Hakarat hatov, literally meaning recognizing the good, can help us to reach the goals in K’Doshim, that the Torah provides. Rabbi Gurvis states, “Practicing gratitude means being fully aware of the good that is already yours.”
Recognizing the good, even in the most difficult situations can help us to reach this kedusha that is discussed in this Torah portion. My teacher, Alan Morinis writes:
In the Mussar classic Duties of the Heart, Rabbi Bachya ibm Pakuda (1050-1120) tells us that there is not a person alive who has not been given gifts, if only the gifts of life and hope. But we tend to suffer a kind of blindness that keeps us from seeing and appreciating what we have. First, he says we tend not to feel appreciative because we are too absorbed in worldly things and in the enjoyment of them. He points out that physical pleasures can never be fully gratified and so we pursue them endlessly, which keeps us from gratitude for what we have. Second, we are so used to our gifts that we don’t even really see them anymore.
In The Mussar Torah Commentary, Rabbi Gurvis offers the following prayer:
On the way, let us not lose the Tov- The good within us and that which arises from us.
Rather, let us shine light with hakarat hatov, in recognition of the good that is in us.
Let us utilize that light as a foundation on which to reach higher and higher in our pursuit of living the ideals of our tradition.
As we strive for a life filled with kedusha let us remember to recognize the good in ourselves and others.
Evie Weinstein is a Jewish educator, Mussar instructor, and former Executive Director of the Bureau of Jewish Education (now LiNK Jewish Buffalo).