September 10, 2015 admin

What I want to do better – 2

On virtually every Jewish festival we say the shehecheyanu blessing, thanking God for bringing us safely to this moment in time. Rosh Hashanah is no exception; we say the shehecheyanu at Kiddush in the evening, over the shofar next morning and, traditionally, over a new item of food or clothing, or both, as well. We thank God, and life, for bringing us safely to this time.
We have little freedom to decide the number of our days, but much to determine their quality. This is not to say that it’s easy. In a startling interpretation of the phrase in the Shema ‘love the Lord your God with all your might’ the rabbis explain: ‘Whatever measure of fortune God metes out to you, acknowledge and thank God profoundly’. This can be expressed similarly in secular terms: ‘Whatever happens to us, we should to try to react as generously and gracefully as possible’. There are moments in life when nothing is harder. That’s why we feel an instinctive respect and warmth towards those who face adversity with minimal bitterness, and remain kind and grateful in spirit. The capacity to behave in that manner may be the essence of wisdom. Counting our own blessings also lies at the heart of how we bring blessings to one another.
In this regard, there is a simple matter in which I’m keen to improve. At a conference on spirituality I met an elderly lady with a wonderful smile who said she’d been taught never to go to bed without thinking of five things from the past day for which she was thankful. Amidst life’s inevitable frictions and frustrations it’s easy to forget to count one’s blessing. They then cease to be real blessings, at least at the deepest level. They remain privileges, like nice food or fine music; but if we don’t open our hearts to them they can’t access and sweeten our spirit. They are like consumables which we swallow down but by which we aren’t nourished. Maybe that, at least in part, is why we consume so much.
One of my resolves for the coming year is to try to count life’s blessings more carefully. It’s remarkable how easy it is to squander them, like the goldfinch at the birdfeeder which I might not have noticed had I never looked up. It’s striking what they turn out to be at the end of a busy day. They are often so-called ‘little things’, easily taken undervalued. Most of them are about companionship, with people, trees, songs, lines of poems. Many are unanticipated moments of simple kindness, which, if we let them, will continue to smile in us long after the gesture, word or encounter has passed.
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birthday of creation. It’s not an easy notion to define, but one thing is unarguable: birthdays are about appreciation. New Year is therefore a time to reconsider how we value, notice and give thanks for the world, for the people around us, for the privilege of life itself.
On Rosh Hashanah we have an opportunity to consider not just how we saybut how we live the shehechayanu, our gratitude for being alive this day, this month, this year.
LeShanah Tovah

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