Friday, August 23, 2019 /22 Av, 5779
Parashat Eikev Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
“Who is rich? One who rejoices in one’s lot.” – Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4.
Like most parents, I have heard a fair share of complaints. “He’s looking at me in a mean way! He’s not looking at me! The macaroni and cheese is too cheesy! The ice cream is too cold!”
As I look at my children’s sweet little faces, I can’t help but wonder how Moses kept his sanity throughout forty years of listening to the Israelites complain in the desert. After they were freed from Egyptian captivity, they grumbled about the food they would no longer enjoy. Despite witnessing miracles, having manna to eat, and a near-constant supply of water, the people whined with frustrating consistency.
As the Israelites approached the Promised Land, Moses was worried that even here the Israelites’ habit of griping would not subside. He just wanted them to be happy, and he knew their constant whining would stand in their way. Just as there were circumstances to complain about in the desert, so too could they find legitimate complaints in the Land of Israel. If they wanted, they could find a plethora of wonders for which to be grateful, as well.
“God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill, a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you… will lack nothing…” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9, JPS translation) Moses took the time to point out the people’s blessings. He wanted them to be filled with thanksgiving for all the good in their lives, and for all they had received. He wanted them to live with a mindset of gratitude, knowing how easy it is to forget.
Moses continued, “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses to live in and everything you own has prospered… beware lest your heart grows haughty and you forget the Eternal your God.” (Deuteronomy 8:12-14, JPS translation, adapted) Be careful not to forget all that has been done for you, Moses warned. Make sure remember how lucky you are.
Filled with my own frustrated with my children’s complaints, I began to ask them to list things for which they are grateful. Privately, I took on the habit myself. I thought about Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’ teaching, “When gratitude is lacking it may be considered a sickness of the soul.” When one’s soul is healthy, gratitude springs forth.
Sometimes it is easy to list things for which we are grateful. Other times, we sit thoughtfully reviewing our days. Inevitably, this process leads us to see gestures and remember good experiences we had previously overlooked. We are better for it.
This Shabbat, Moses reminds us how important it is to ask two simple questions:
What in your life are you grateful for? How do you plan to express your gratitude?
Rabbi Cassi Kail