By Mike Steklof
I strive to live my life with a sense of Hakarat Hatov, gratitude for everything. Alan Morinis, founder of The Mussar Institute, teaches that “when you open yourself to experience the trait of gratitude, you discover with clarity and accuracy how much good there is in your life”. Even though I am deeply committed to my gratitude practices, there are times when it can be deeply challenging to feel grateful.
November marks a moment of convergence between gratitude and grief in my life; three months since I moved to Buffalo (gratitude) and four months since my grandfather, Richard Rosenbaum, of blessed memory, passed away (grief). My grandfather is very much on my mind both because this will be my first Thanksgiving without him (and his annual speech about the many things we should have gratitude for) and because this week’s parsha (Torah portion) is Hayei Sara, in which both Sara and Abraham pass away.
In this week’s Torah portion, Hayei Sara, Abraham faces tremendous loss. His wife has died, he does not own any land and his son Isaac who will continue the covenant of the Jewish people is unmarried. Instead of letting himself be overcome by grief or despair, Abraham leaps into action. He buys land and has faith that one day his son Isaac will find a wife and the covenant will continue. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “Abraham only acquired a single field and had just one son who would continue the covenant. Yet he did not complain, he died serene and satisfied”.
Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pakuda shares three reasons why we fail to be grateful for the gifts in our lives:
- “We are too absorbed in worldly things and in the enjoyment of them”
- “We are so used to our gifts that we don’t even really see them anymore”
- “We are so focused on the travails and afflictions we suffer in this world that we forget that both our very being and all we own are among the good things that have been gifted to us”
In the Talmud, book of Jewish civil and ceremonial law, we are taught that a person is required to say a blessing when good things happen in life but also when bad things happen in life. “One must bless for the bad as one blesses for the good, and for the good as one blesses for the bad” (Berachot 54a). If there is any blessing that has come from the death of my grandfather, it has been the increased connectedness of my family for which I am very grateful.
In this season of thanksgiving, I wish for each of us that we feel a sense of gratitude for the good things in our lives and for the grief in our lives to lead us to new blessings.
Mike Steklof is the Director of Teen Engagement and Inclusion at the Center for Jewish Engagement and Learning.