Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Shop for Your Spirit on Cyber Monday



A
seeming paradox defines Thanksgiving weekend. On Thursday evening we express gratitude for everything we have. The follow days we rush out to buy what we do not yet have!

Be that as it may, some things we can buy can also nourish the spirit. Here are a few:

1. Books: Jews have been called “The People of the Book.” We believe that books reveal sacred truths that connect us with God and enhance the holiness of everyday life.

A couple of books to consider if you do not own them: God in Search of Man,  by Abraham Joshua Heschel, explores the experiences of awe and amazement by which God reaches out to human beings. “Indifference to the sublime wonders of living,” Heschel wrote, “is the root of sin.”

Another more recent book is The Great Partnership, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Sacks, an Orthodox Rabbi, challenges the idea that science and religion inevitably clash and contradict each other.

He argues that the insights of each discipline can enrich the other.

2. Travel: Experiencing a different culture and landscape enhances our spiritual awareness. We see the way others relate to God and the universe, and begin to understand both the remarkable diversity and similarity between different faiths.

3. Experiences with friends and family: A focus on acquiring things–even the newest iPad or sports car–does not bring happiness. Rather, as numerous studies have illustrated, such a focus creates greater unhappiness. It constantly reminds us of what we do not yet have.

A focus on doing things with family and friends–a meal out or a visit to the beach–can create lasting happiness. They remind of us what we have rather than what we desire. They focus on what we share rather than what we lack.

4. Gifts for others: Paradoxically, when we spend money on others, we gain. Giving deepens relationships in a way that makes us happier in the long run.

Point in fact: As a rabbi I’ve noticed that students at my temple derive enormous satisfaction from the community service we ask them to do. They see how lucky they are, and find meaning in helping fellow human beings.

While getting presents is great, giving them away is even better.

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Inspire Yourself and Discover More, check out Rabbi Moffic’s free weekly digest of spiritual wisdom

The Most Beautiful Gratitude Prayer

This piece moves me every year. It was written by Jonathan Sacks, The Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. It is timeless and timely, speaking to adults and children, single and married, religious or atheist. Please share if you find it meaningful as well. 

The gift of faith taught me to see the dazzling goodness and grace that surround us if only we open our eyes and minds

As the new year approaches, with the recession still in force, I find myself giving thanks to God for all the things that cost nothing and are worth everything.

Love

I thank Him for the love that has filled our home for so many years. Life is never easy. We’ve had our share of pain. But through it all we discovered the love that brings new life into the world, allowing us to share in the miracle of birth and the joy of seeing our children grow.

I thank Him for the blessing of grandchildren. I don’t know why it is I was so surprised by joy, but in their company my constant thought is that I didn’t know that life could be that good.

I thank Him for the friends who stood by us in tough times, for the mentors who believed in me more than I believed in myself, and for the teachers who encouraged me to think and question, teaching me the difference between truth and mere intellectual fashion.

I thank him for those rare souls who lift us when we are laid low by the sheer envy and malice by which some people poison their lives and the lives of others. I thank Him for the people I meet every day who light up the world with simple gestures of humanity and decency.

Beauty

I thank Him for the fragments of light he has scattered in so many lives, in the kindness of strangers and the unexpected touch of souls across the boundaries that once divided people and made them fearful of one another.

I thank Him for the gift of being born a Jew, despite all the persecutions visited on our people, often in the name of the same God my ancestors worshipped and to whom they dedicated their lives. I thank Him for the transformation of the relationship between Jews and Christians that has happened in my lifetime, and for the gift of coming to know people from so many different faiths, each of which has given something utterly unique to humanity.

I thank Him for Beethoven’s late quartets and Shakespeare’s prose and Rembrandt’s portraits. Rabbi Abraham Kook, chief rabbi of what was then Palestine, once said that God took some of the light of the first day of creation and gave it to Rembrandt who put it into his paintings.

I thank Him for the first cup of coffee in the morning and the iPod I’ve almost learnt how to use (another year or two should do it), for Morgan Freeman’s voice and Woody Allen’s humour, for 2B pencils and wide-lined notepads, for bookshops and a forgiving wife.

Faith

I thank Him for the atheists and agnostics who keep believers from believing the unbelievable, forcing us to prove our faith by the beauty and grace we bring into the world. I thank him for all the defeats and failures that make leadership so difficult, because the hard things are the only ones worth doing, and because all genuine achievement involves taking risks, making mistakes, and never giving up.

I thank Him for the gift of faith, which taught me to see the dazzling goodness and grace that surround us if only we open our eyes and minds. I thank Him for helping me to understand that faith is not certainty but the courage to live with uncertainty; not a destination but the journey itself.

I thank Him for allowing me to thank Him, for without gratitude there is no happiness, only the fleeting distraction of passing pleasures that grow ever less consequential with the passing years.

Thank You.

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Read More from Rabbi Moffic, subscribe to his free weekly digest of spiritual wisdom

All Too Human: Why We Care About Oprah’s Twitter Blunder

On Tuesday Oprah Winfrey made headlines. She did not give away cars or a cruise. She did not even land an interview with the First Lady or President Obama.

Rather, she shared a seemingly innocuous message on her Twitter account. She revealed that she loves “that SURFACE (referring to Microsoft’s new Surface tablet) Have bought 12 already for Christmas gifts.”

It seems like a normal message. Except for one thing. The bottom of the tweet revealed that it was sent from an iPad! Oprah praised Microsoft’s Tablet while using Apple’s iPad. It was as if she had said how much she loved drinking Pepsi while sipping a can of Coke.

So what?

Were this a friend or even a typical celebrity, we might laugh it off. But it’s Oprah! She represents much more.

First and foremost, she represents integrity. Oprah is famous for saying how she really feels. In interviews, her own integrity helps get others to open up. We trusted her book club choices because we knew she was not trying to win points for elitism or popularity. She is honest and authentic.

Thus, when we see her endorsing a product she is clearly not using, we begin to question her other choices. We wonder if we were being played.

Saving Grace

Even so, Oprah has a saving grace. We can relate to her. She represents our community humanity. Forgetting that she is a billionaire celebrity, we see ourselves in her. This  “everyman” quality is the source of her unique influence.

It also lets us empathize with her twitter mishap. All of us have done something accidental or embarrassing with our phones or computers. We’ve sent an email to someone we didn’t mean to. We’ve accidentally called someone when we told them we weren’t available. We’ve hit “reply all” after having been reminded dozens of times not to do so.

Oprah (or someone on her staff) did something we all might do. In doing so, she inadvertantly reminded us of a core truth. We are all human, even Oprah Winfrey.

A Challenge: What Is Your Most Embarrassing Technological Mishap? 

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Read More from Rabbi Moffic, subscribe to his free weekly nugget of spiritual wisdom here.

 

How To Teach Your Kids About Gratitude

An episode of The Simpsons inspired this article. The entire Simpson family is seated around the dinner table. Bart is asked to say grace. He offers the following words: “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”

Bart’s words capture what so many often feel. We’re entitled to what we have. We earned it. Why should we thank anyone for it?

A consumerist culture reinforces this message. “Buy this product,” we are told, “because you need it. You deserve it.”

An Ongoing Challenge

As a parent, I think a lot about how to cultivate in my young children a sense of gratitude. How can I convey to them how lucky we are to live in America, to have a roof over heads, to have toys to play with, good schools to attend, an extended and loving family to visit?

Experience and study has taught me the following:

1. Example teaches the most: Gratitude is not only taught by words. It is caught by example. If I take things for granted; if I act entitled; if I look at other people as means to satisfying my needs, rather than ends in themselves; then so will my children. Actions speak louder than words.

2. Pray: Something about prayer changes the way we look at the world. It highlights what we often forget. As Rabbi Sidney Greenberg put it, ”Prayers of thanksgiving bring to the foreground what is usually in the background.”

“They remind us that without the dominance of kindness we would be indifferent to cruelty. Without faithfulness we would be unmoved by betrayal. Around us everywhere, flooding us with light, is the dazzling goodness of creation.” 

3. Give to others: Experience has taught me that, paradoxically, when we give something away, we benefit, sometimes even more than the recipient of our gift. By responding to the needs of another, we recognize that our needs are not the only ones that matter.

At my synagogue, we have a program where children in need anonymously post what they would like for holiday gifts. Families from the synagogue agree to “adopt” one child and get them their desired gifts. When my family did it, I saw the excitement and joy in my childrens’ faces.

Transformation

Giving to others helped them appreciate what we give to them. And it helped us realize how important gratitude is. It is the secret sauce of happiness. It can lift our spirits and transform the way we see the world. It’s the closest we get to the meaning of life.

An anonymous poet put it eloquently in a verse I plan to share at our Thanskgiving table: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.”

“It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

To express gratitude is a gift life gives us. Let us be grateful for it.

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Read More from Rabbi Moffic, subscribe to his free weekly blog of uplifting Jewish wisdom.

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