Is it too soon to practice Gratitude after Tree of Life? It was a massacre of our siblings on Shabbat. Less than a week later, I remain upset, sick, worried, sad, mad and confused.
I am working to make room for the sadness, as I described in the last post. And in that context, Gratitude after Tree of Life may seem a long way away. Yet is it exactly part of what we need to help get through.
The soul trait of Gratitude in Hebrew is Hakarat Ha’Tov, recognizing the good. In Mussar, we train ourselves to recognize the good, even in bad situations. I’ve done this mussar practice many times. While is works after I’ve gotten a parking ticket, or been in a painful argument with my wife, can it really help at a time like this?
Being grateful for the good and the bad is one of the most challenging Mussar lessons. Each and every time I facilitate a Mussar circle focusing on Gratitude, people initially get tripped up at the idea that we should give thanks for bad things.
The idea comes straight from the Talmud
One recites a blessing for the bad that befalls him just as he does for the good. Berachot 54a
The word “recognizing” reminds us how often we take things for granted. Even in a terrible event, some good things happen that we can take for granted. Together, lets us try to practice Gratitude after Tree of Life.
****Here’s the Mussar Practice*****
Recognize the good and give thanks for the events after the murders. Being sad is the first mussar practice after the murders. Now lets try to find a few areas of light. Here are three things to be grateful for:
- We live in a country where police will rush into a building to protect us. Four police officers were wounded trying to save Jewish lives. Throughout our history, again and again, the police turned a blind eye or were complicit in killing us. It is wonderful and amazing to live in a country where today, the police risk their lives to protect us.
- We can be grateful to the people who care for the bodies of the dead. I don’t want his mother to see him this way, Don Corleone said to Bonasera the undertaker in the Godfather, referring to the bullet riddled body of Sonny. The Chevra Kadisha is the Jewish burial society who wash and care for the bodies of the dead. In Pittsburgh, a team of volunteers stood outside the Tree of Life synagogue through the night until the bodies were removed. Later, they cleaned the synagogue to gather all of the human remains for burial. Every day, all over the world, volunteers and professionals work to treat the bodies of the dead with dignity. Truly Holy and sacred work.
- People are coming together. Sunday night I attended a community gathering hosted by my synagogue. I was astounded to see a traffic jam, and close to 1000 people jammed into our sanctuary and social hall. It lifted my heart to see so many people there to support each other. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to hear from clergy from many faiths, including a woman who chanted the Koran from the Bimah. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.
Be sure to verbalize your Gratitude after Tree of Life, both directly to the people you are grateful to, and to third parties.
Almost 1000 years ago, Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda wrote “Many good things are left unenjoyed, and the happiness to be had from them becomes tainted either because people do not recognize the good in it, or they do not realize its value.” (Duties of the Heart.)
For me, there is no joy in recognizing the good in these circumstances. However, Gratitude after Tree of Life does ease the pain. A Mussar practice of Gratitude today means that, in the future we will not miss an opportunity to recognize the good, and enjoy something that can be enjoyed.
For the good will return. It is still here. We can and must find it again.
See also 15 Minutes of Gratitude Could Change Your Life