Rabbi Miriam's Blog
By Rabbinic Intern, Greg Metzger
This week’s Torah reading, Vayislach, exemplifies the very Jewish philosophy that blessings exist in all of life, even in our troubles. For some, it is our troubles that help to reveal the deepest blessings.
The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat hatov, which means, literally, "recognizing the good." Practicing gratitude means recognizing the good that is already yours.
There is a saying that my happier friends recite: “I may not have everything that I want. But, I want everything that I have.” This may be difficult, as “everything I have” includes my troubles. In Judaism, the world and everything within is from G-d. This is in contrast to faiths that see the negative as a force outside of G-d, one with which G-d must contend.
Twenty years after running from the mess he created at home, Jacob wants to take his family to the holy land, the place of his birth. To do this he must, himself, return to holiness. He must confront himself and his past deeds. While others may help us, ultimately, this is something we must each do alone. “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” – Genesis 32:25
On his journey home, he finds himself alone and at the same time engaged in wrestling. Anyone who has ever made a mess of things knows that the only way to return is to take responsibility for the wreckage we create. Jacob, like most of us, initially dreads the prospect of facing his troubles, be they self inflicted or outwardly imposed. Also, like most of us, Jacob ends up discovering the deepest and most profound blessings by acknowledging his entire self, including his “dark side”. It is only in truth that we discover the beauty of true t’shuvah, redemption and return to holiness.
In Lonely Man of Faith, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik states that “redemption is achieved when humble man makes a movement of recoil, and allows himself be confronted and defeated by a Higher and Truer Being.”
Interestingly, it is in Jacob’s “dark” nights, here and previously at Beth-El that Jacob recognizes his blessings. Here, like Beth-El, he expresses and memorializes his gratitude with a reminder – a stone monument.
As solid as these stone monuments - and maybe even more permanent reminders of the great blessings of the Jewish people - are the names by which the Jewish people are called: Yehudim and Israel.
When Leah had her fourth child, she named him “Yehudah,” which means “I am grateful,” This reflected her gratitude to God for the gift of another son. The name Yehudah is the source of the Hebrew name of the Jewish people (Yehudim), revealing the very direct tie between Judaism and gratitude.
Israel, the name given to Jacob (singular) and collectively to the Jewish people, means to” wrestle with God”. We are a people who are blessed to be alive, conscious and awake in the struggle to harmonize our divine and material essences and inclinations. May we all be blessed to be conscious in the practice of hakarat hatov and may we all continue to be blessed to confront ourselves with Torah, Tefillah, and Tradition, seeing the good within and allowing it to prevail.
Every morning, among the blessings for the miracles of each day, we say the blessing "Baruch atah adonai,eloheinu melech ha'olam, poke'ach ivrim" -- "Blessed are You, Adonai, who opens the eyes of the blind." And then later, we say "Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha'olam, ha-mevir shena m'einai u'tnumah me-afapai" -- "who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids." This week, let us allow these blessing, to remind us to truly open our eyes to the wonder of life and to be awake to blessings that exist, even in our troubles.
And, let us all say Amen.
Ahavat Torah of West Los Angeles
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.