Parashat Re’eh has so much to teach us: If we obey God’s commandments, we shall be blessed; if we choose disobedience, we shall be cursed. Laws are detailed that our people must observe- be wary of false prophets, do not consume the blood of animals that are slaughtered. So much to take in. But the message that speaks to me is the following: Parashat Re’eh bids us “rejoice before the Eternal our God.” (Deut. 12:12)
It seems so clear, so easy, but often worry simply gets in our way. In reality, we have enough reasons to let worry consume our lives. We are disappointed by momentary glitches in relationships. Nonsense can bog us down. And beyond simple annoyances, looms life’s larger issues: aging, illness, fears of suffering and mortality, the threat of random violence, praying for the welfare of the people we love. I admit – I am a worrier, sometimes feeling anxious about situations that I think about, although that have not really happened. I, like many, feel vulnerable. That’s when ‘rejoicing’ can be blocked.
As many of you know, my family suffered a tragic, unspeakable loss with the death of my beloved niece, Elle. At times, my family feels that we will never be able to rejoice as we once did. Elle’s surviving younger sister, Jaz, is desperate to know that she will one day be happy again. It can feel that life will never be what it was before, making it difficult to see the many blessings that do exist in our lives. Perhaps some of you may have staggered into that depth of despair, needing help to see that there truly is joy in your lives.
I read a beautiful commentary by Rabbi Artson that I want to share with you. It is intertwined with Rabbi Cohen’s love of Mussar, a journey we would all benefit by exploring. In Rabbi Artson’s words, “For the spiritually alive, life is a constant marvel. Without having asked to live, without doing anything to deserve the gifts of life, companionship, and joy, we are offered these gifts in an abundance that is staggering. Judaism helps restore our thanks for everything we receive so effortlessly. Serving God implies the capacity to feel gratitude, a response of joy to the many wonders of living.” Elle is no longer able to express her thanks for that which was good in her life, but we, alive on this earth, must go forward, taking it one day at a time, living life to its fullest, with gratitude and recognition for the blessings we have.
Each of us, given the space and time to reflect, has the ability to create a list of “miracles,” even when we have suffered loss. When we pay attention, the ‘ordinary’ becomes extraordinary and our sense of joy, if we are able to allow it, can take our breath away:
- For the miracle that parents and children, and hopefully grandchildren, can spend their lifetimes getting to know each other as people, growing to accept, appreciate, and love each other as independent human beings. I have especially felt that at holiday celebrations as we gathered around the table. I will never again take that for granted and…I will take it all in, and whisper, Thank You, God.
- For the miracle of being able to build and celebrate community – the joy of sharing in the struggles and rewards of other people’s lives. I’m so gratefully aware of this, having recently felt the outpouring of love and support from so many of you, wanting to comfort me at my lowest moments. I experience it especially as we gather at Jeremiah for Shabbat services or on a busy Sunday morning as I look around at my “extended family” and know the blessing of community.
- For the miracle of being able to make this world a little better, a little more caring, a little more humane than it was when we entered it. I am a better person because I am here at Jeremiah, continually inspired to be the best that I can be.
- For the miracle – perhaps the greatest one of all – of simply being: having an opportunity to think, feel, experience, and wonder. Most of the time we take life for granted. I sense that now, more than ever before. At rare moments in our lives – births, graduations, B’nai Mitzvah celebrations, marriages, sweet family gatherings– we see the marvel of life, and, for brief spells, are able to appreciate both the Giver and the gift. And I pray that all of us are aware of how important it is to hold onto those moments, letting the small, unimportant issues go.
Our tradition bids us to cultivate awareness, mindfulness, and beyond mindfulness, a thrill at being alive. Indeed, enjoying life is a way to say “thank You.” To those of you who may be struggling, fighting valiantly to return to your true selves, stay the course. We will rejoice again. And, let us also be reminded that Judaism calls upon us to remember those who cannot rejoice without our help. In the words of the Rambam, “the Torah sensitizes us to assure the joy of the powerless, the poor, and the stranger.” Reaching beyond the boundaries of self and embracing others as well, cultivating meaningful connections with our families, our communities, our people, and with God, we can attain a true joy.
May each of us recognize our blessings, do our best as Alan Morinis, founder of the Mussar Institute, teaches, to “weave thankfulness deeply into the very fabric of our being,” every day, and then we will truly be able to rejoice before our God. Ken yihi ratzon.