Parashat Re’eh 5779

Rabbi Monique Mayer – 30 August 2019

 
Many years ago while my mother and I were visiting New York, spent the day wandering around and shopping in New York City. We had tasty lunch at the Russian Tea Room doing a bit of celebrity-spotting, we took in the sites, and then we wandered into Tiffany’s if only to look at all the lovely items we couldn’t afford!

We leaned over the first counter and gazed at its contents. As we turned to go to the next counter, I saw a tall, elegant woman dressed in a long, black cape but didn’t think much of it. We went to the next display and then, turning, I noticed the woman again. At the third counter, we spent quite a bit of time oo-ing and ah-ing and as we quickly turned around, we almost bumped into the same woman with the long cape who had been standing right behind us.

As we walked out of the store, I said to my mother, “That’s odd. That woman was near us three times”. My mother didn’t know what I was talking about and we continued onwards. About 30 min later, as my mother went to make purchase and reached for her bag to get her wallet, she discovered the bag was open and the wallet was missing. We spent the next 45 minutes retracing our steps but did not find her missing wallet. It was then that I exclaimed, “It was that woman – the woman who was behind us three times in Tiffany’s!!” (And who by now was long-gone).

Understandably, my mother was upset and just wanted to go back to my grandmother’s in Queens. But I suggested that we go to my aunt’s office – a short distance away – where my mother could quickly make the phone calls needed to cancel her cheque book and credit cards. We walked to my aunt’s office and my mother made the calls she needed. While we were there, a friend of my uncle’s dropped in, and he heard what happened. He asked if we’d seen any of the shows during our stay and, when we told him no, he picked up the phone and arranged for us to have tickets to see “The Miser” at the Circle on the Square Theatre. The show was brilliant.

As we traveled back to my grandmother’s where we were staying in Queens, my mother and I talked about our day. Up until we walked into Tiffany’s we’d been having a lovely time. If we hadn’t gone into Tiffany’s, my mother’s wallet wouldn’t have been stolen. And yet, if her wallet hadn’t been stolen, we wouldn’t have ended up at my aunt’s office. And if we hadn’t gone to my aunt’s office, we wouldn’t have met my uncle’s friend… gotten tickets for the show… and had a wonderful evening at the theatre. Seeing the positive in the situation, we were grateful for the blessings we ultimately received.

In Hebrew and in the Jewish ethical practice of Mussar, the character trait of gratitude is hakarat hatov, which literally means “recognising the good”. Jewishly we do this by reciting blessings. Barukh attah Adonai [Eloheinu] – “Blessed are You, Eternal One [our God]”. We have blessings for food, blessings for nature, blessings concerning people and events. But how can blessing God make us feel more grateful? What does it mean for us to “bless God”? How can this be gratitude?

Over 700 years ago, Talmudic commentator Rabbi Shlomo ben Adreret – the Rashba – explained that the opening words to a blessing actually mean “You, God, are the Source of all blessing”. As we recite a blessing, we acknowledge the Source of our blessing and also pray that God will continue to shower us with blessings. Our siddur is full of prayers of gratitude to God and we can carry that practice into our everyday lives.

In Deuteronomy 11:26-28, the Torah teaches that life’s blessings and curses are tied to our behaviours. Yet blessings can also be connected to how we choose to see things. We can focus and dwell only on the negative around us, or we can practice hakarat hatov and recognise the positive in spite of what is going wrong. When American children’s television host Mr. Rogers (of blessed memory) was asked what to tell children when scary things happen, he said “look for the helpers”. When we find the helpers, we have found the blessings. By setting ourselves a daily practice of blessings and gratitude, by looking for the good – hakarat hatov – we can open ourselves to finding the blessings and gifts in our lives.

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