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Gratitude – Rosh Hashanah 5778
Years ago, before my first Rosh Hashanah at Chizuk Amuno, I asked a wise friend. A thoughtful friend. Who had a wonderful, rich life and also had suffered great disappointment and lost an imagined future. What do you want to hear when you come to the synagogue on the Days of Awe? I’ll never forget what he said to me, “Remind me to be grateful. Tell me how blessed I am and that I should appreciate it all.” I return to his advice each year when I set out to prepare for the holidays.
Of the many hopes I have for Chizuk Amuno this year, one is that we grow in our sense of gratitude. Yesterday I spoke about a community that strives to be sacred and I mentioned ten things that our tradition says a community needs to have: a law court that may mete out punishment, tzedakah, a charity fund that is collected by two people and distributed by three, a place to pray, a bathroom, a bath house, a doctor, an artist, a kosher butcher, a scribe, and a teacher of children. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 17b)
Today I want to add an eleventh thing, gratitude. Our tradition gives this value a name- hakarat ha tov, acknowledging the good in our lives.
There are actually two steps involved in the value of gratitude: the first is acknowledging what we have, the second is showing appreciation for it. That is what we do here as we observe these two days of Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah starts our year with gratitude, it should help mold us into the kind of people who are grateful. We acknowledge how wonderful the world and its gifts are. Next week we will return here on Yom Kippur and because we have been grateful, we are able, in good conscience, to ask for more time to spend in the world.
We do that as individuals and we need to do it as a community. What would it look like if we were a congregation that had gratitude as one of its ideals?
For many years the Baltimore Jewish Times used to have a kvetch column. Thankfully it’s been discontinued because it modeled poor behavior for a Jewish community that doesn’t need encouragement to kvetch. But listen to me kvetching about them! Today is about turning inward, individually and collectively. We ought to have a hakarat ha tov, a gratitude column in our monthly bulletin to keep us striving towards being grateful. A place not to brag, but to begin to shift a community culture from kvetching to giving thanks. That would be the place to acknowledge non-material gifts we have received. It is where one could express appreciation to a member of the community who helped you when you had a medical emergency even when you didn’t know them. Appreciation for a teacher who went out of their way to teach you or your child. Appreciation to a staff member for a synagogue program that you found meaningful.
Let’s start right this moment. Turn to the nearest person to whom you are not related. If you don’t know them, introduce yourself and say shanah tovah. Now, tell them two of the many non-material gifts you have received this past year and why you are grateful for them.
One of my personal rabbis, the great sage Parker Palmer answers the question, what does it mean to live a good life with one word – gratitude.
Gratitude for the ordinary everyday things that the poet Jane Kenyon celebrates. She wrote the following shortly before she died of leukemia at age 47. She wrote it knowing that things would soon be “otherwise” for her. (“Things Could Have Been Otherwise” On Being with Krista Tippett, January 11. 2017)
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
Why did my friend want to be reminded of his blessings? Because he knew as we all know, that it could have been otherwise and gratitude is not always a natural state of being. We tend to assume that we are entitled to all the good things in life, just because we are good people. Instead, we have to be the kind of people who know how to be grateful, the kind of community that regularly expresses gratitude.
As we strive towards the sacred, to live up to our name “kehillah kedoshah Chizuk Amuno” let us add gratitude to our striving that we become, that we be, a community that is thankful for all its blessings, and they are many. I’ll end by beginning. By expressing my gratitude to so many of you for the many gifts which you have given me this past year and that you continue to give me in this year ahead.
Rabbi Wechsler has touched the lives of many members of our community through her intellect, warmth, compassion and commitment to the ideals of Conservative Judaism. As the first woman to serve as rabbi of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, her impact and accomplishments are demonstrated in our successful b’nei mitzvah, adult learning programs, gemilut hasadim efforts, and many learning and life cycle experiences. Her communal work includes service on the Executive Committee of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, the Grant Review Committee for the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated, and the Teacher Certification group of the Center for Jewish Education. She has published sermons and opinion articles in The American Rabbi, The Orchard, and the New York Jewish Week. Debi received her rabbinic ordination, as well as an M.A., from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City where she also served on the Board of Overseers of the Rabbinical School.