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Eikev 2019

08/22/2019 12:42:50 PM

Aug22

Rabbi Robinson

Eikev 2019

Some Hasidim of the Maggid of Mezheritz came to him. "Rebbe, we are puzzled. It says in the Talmud

that we must thank God as much for the bad days, as for the good. How can that be? What would our

gratitude mean, if we gave it equally for the good and the bad?"

 

The Maggid replied, "Go to Anapol. Reb Zusya will have an answer for you."

 

The Hasidim undertook the journey. Arriving in Anapol, they inquired for Reb Zusya. At last, they came

to the poorest street of the city. There, crowded between two small houses, they found a tiny shack,

sagging with age.

 

When they entered, they saw Reb Zusya sitting at a bare table, reading a volume by the light of the only

small window. "Welcome, strangers!" he said. "Please pardon me for not getting up; I have hurt my leg.

Would you like food? I have some bread. And there is water!"

 

"No. We have come only to ask you a question. The Maggid of Mezheritz told us you might help us

understand: Why do our sages tell us to thank God as much for the bad days as for the good?"

 

Reb Zusya laughed. "Me? I have no idea why the Maggid sent you to me." He shook his head in

puzzlement. "You see, I have never had a bad day. Every day God has given to me has been filled with

miracle.”

 

This week we read in parashat Eikev how we are to offer blessings for our meal after we have eaten and been satisfied, part of a suite of mitzvot concerning how we ought to express gratitude once we enter the Land. This begs the question of what it means to be “satisfied”? What if we don’t like the food, or the way it’s served? What if we find the conversation, the whole ambiance, to be wanting? Why would we offer blessing when we might, in fact, not be satisfied? For those who have recited birkat hamazon at repeated meals of camp food, we might really want to ask this question. What does our tradition mean by that idea?

 

One way of looking at it is, to be sure, that consumer mindset that all of us seem to have embraced. We are buying an experience, whether it’s the food on our plate, the engagement of our community, the loyalty of those around us, or even the island of Greenland, apparently, and if we’re customers, then the customer is always right. But I’d argue that our story suggests a different way of understanding the idea of satisfaction. That we may teach ourselves to be satisfied, to see even the bad days as good. To stand in a posture of generosity toward those around us. This past summer, during my time at Camp Harlam they spent a lot of time talking about “assuming best intent”; of campers, staff, parents or any member of the community. What a lovely idea. For when we assume best intent in others, it helps us see them  and acknowledge their humanity. This posture gives us the freedom to recognize the efforts of others, allowing us to give people the same benefit of the doubt we give ourselves. After all, while we cannot know fully what each of us carries in our hearts, if we stop to think about it, we know each of us is carrying burdens, burdens we may never see or fully understand. To assume best intent, to have that generosity of spirit, creates space for us to redefine satisfaction, and therefore express gratitude.

In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, we read im ein kemach ein Torah, im ein Torah ein Kemach (some of us may have even grown up singing these words). “Without sustenance, there is no Torah, without Torah, there is no sustenance”. Satisfaction on its own is mere idolatry of the self, an attempt to fill a bottomless hole. But a posture of generosity toward others leads us to see the good, the best intent in others, and therefore leads us to gratitude. In that way we may see every meal, and every day, as full of miracles.

Wed, September 18 2019 18 Elul 5779