Sunday, January 20, 2008

My Grateful Grandma

This past Shabbos my family held a mass confab in honor of my grandmother, who is celebrating, thank Gd, her 90th birthday.

In my dvar torah at this get-together (written in verse which, mercifully, I will not inflict upon you, lest you never come back to this blog), I focussed on one of the lessons my grandmother has modeled for me: Eternal gratitude. My grandmother escaped the camps in Europe and came to America, raised three daughters with her husband, lost her husband thirty-plus years ago, has dealt with all sorts of challenges, and throughout all of it, she has thanked Gd for all that she has.

I was reminded of the Shirah which we read in shul on Shabbos, the Jews’ song of praise to Gd, with which they celebrated their passage through the Sea and the final destruction of their Egyptian slavedrivers. But I was also reminded of the lack of song after so many other Divine favors – after the plagues, after escaping Egypt, after the bitter water was made sweet, after the Mun fell from the heavens, after water came from the stone, etc.

It seems to me that the nation thanked HaShem only for final victory, and not for partial victories. When they were nervous about tomorrow’s bread and water, they didn’t thank for today’s. When the Egyptians yet lived, they didn’t thank for today’s freedom. There was no trust. It was only after a complete victory that they were able to feel comfortable and safe, and express gratitude.

This is natural, of course. Sincere thanking is difficult, as an expression of both humility and trust. But my grandmother has always expressed thanks, for whatever she has received – and this is a lesson we see in many elements of Judaism.

We are instructed to eat and be full and thank Gd for our meal, even though we will need another meal in just a few hours.

We are, per Rabbi Yosi, גומרין את ההלל בכל יום, we say the Psukei d’Zimra of Tehillim every morning to thank Gd for our world, and we say Modeh Ani to declare thanks for our lives.

And each day we recall the שיר של יום, the daily song the Leviyyim sang in the Beit haMikdash. They sang, day in and day out, no matter what was going on personally, no matter what was going on communally. They might have had health issues or money problems. The Greeks might be encroaching on the population, the Romans might be at the doorstep – and yet, the Leviyyim sang.

There’s more to say on this – see the gemara regarding Chizkiyah’s failure to properly thank HaShem after the Assyrian invasion was miraculously driven off, for example.

It’s a remarkable trait, this ability to sing, to say Thank You. This is one of the lessons my Grandma has taught me, and all of her grandchildren.


And a separate note: I was struck, this week, by HaShem’s instruction to Moshe at the Sea. HaShem says, “נטה את ידך על הים ובקעהו, Raise your arm out over the sea, and split it open.” One could say that HaShem meant, “Make a splitting gesture,” but that robs the text of its strength. Rather, HaShem is saying to Moshe, “Stop davening to me. Go ahead – you have the power to do it. Raise your arm over the sea, and split that sea wide open.” And so, indeed, it happened.

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