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  • Shternie Bell

Gratitude: A lot or everything?



In keeping with current events, and with Thanksgiving taking place just yesterday, I debated which of two themes is more significant at this time; gratitude or shopping? The jury is still out on that one but I have little to say about shopping, so gratitude it is.


Gratitude is a cornerstone of Judaism and virtually every Jewish practice contains an element that expresses gratitude: starting with the Modeh Ani prayer that is said immediately upon awakening, the morning blessings, the prayers, grace after meals, the Shabbat Kiddush, practices on each holiday, the sacrifices of Temple times, the blessing of Shehecheyanu when we express gratitude for reaching a milestone or performing a Mitzvah that is done once a year.


My relationship with gratitude is somewhat fraught. With its consistently showing up in Judaism and all the research on the importance of gratitude for our well-being, I've tried incorporating it with mixed results. There were times when it felt forced or seemed to be a way to deny or avoid thinking about and engaging with more difficult parts of life.


The two protagonists in this week's Torah portion are Jacob and Esau who interestingly teach us a lesson in gratitude. After their separation of many years and eventual reunion, as Jacob presents Esau with a gift, Esau tells him "I have a lot" and flaunts his material wealth, wives and possessions. Several verses later Jacob tells his brother "I have everything". What is the difference between I have a lot and I have everything?


When one has a lot there is still more to be had. No matter how much one has there can always be more. When one has everything, s/he lacks nothing, any additional blessing that comes into their life is adding to an already full cup. Jacob famously also said to God "I am humbled from all of Your kindness", this coming from a man who lived a difficult life.


From Jacob we learn that the key to gratitude is in the feeling that at this moment I have everything that I need. This doesn't mean that there isn't something better or more blessing that is in store for me to create space for. It means that I can be present with what is without feeling how much more there could be.


As someone who lived most of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking about the goodness in my life or the people that I loved was often immediately followed by all the possible scenarios in which those people could die or have terrible tragedies befall them.


Thankfully I can now walk through life without a sense of impending gloom but the familiar urge to do so is always there. My gratitude practice currently consists of staying present when my heart overflows with gratitude or love for the blessings in my life. I try to stay in the moment and resist the urge to imagine it all being taken away. This allows me to feel a sense of what Jacob described, that in this moment I have everything.


I want to close out by thanking each of you who read what I write each week and especially those that have given me feedback. Thank you for being here and thank you for being you.

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