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Rabbi's Thoughts

Thoughts that may provoke inspiration.

Gratitude.

I remember watching a YouTube video called “The Science of Happiness” (on the Soul Pancakes channel) and was awed by the idea that saying thank you to someone makes you happy. The video was quite powerful.

This week's Torah portion begins with the mitzvah of "Bikurim"- bringing first fruit to the Beit Hamikdash (the Temple) in Jerusalem as a show of appreciation to G-d. The Jewish people had gone through a long winter, when food was a questionable proposition. Would it rain enough for new food to grow? Would the food in the storehouses last all winter? As soon as they saw the new fruit, they lovingly tied a string or bow to the tree’s branch to dedicate it as a gift and thanksgiving.

Since they have started the Happiness Index, Israel has been consistently rated among the top 15 happiest countries. In 2015, Israel was number 11. The top ten countries have the combined stress level of a cat being stroked!  How do Israelis remain so happy?

I think that this week's Torah portion gives us the answer. The Torah strongly encourages gratitude in so many ways. Honoring one’s parents, saying blessings over food, praying, celebrating holidays, etc. But one way is very special to me, and that is the Modeh Ani prayer said every morning. Twelve words that express appreciation for life and are dedicated to realizing that every day is a gift.

The Modeh Ani correlates to Bikurim in another way. The Bikurim are the first fruit, and the Modeh Ani is said in the first precious moments of our day -our gift from G-d- thereby training ourselves to feel appreciation and happiness just to be alive!

The point of all this, is to just say THANK YOU!


 

The Election We Deserve

In this week's Torah portion, G-d instructs us with the commandment of crowning a king for the Jewish people.  400 years later, the prophet Samuel is disgusted with the Jewish people for making this exact request, asking Samuel to help them crown a Jewish King.  What’s going on? Is it a mitzvah or a travesty to have a king?

Chasidic philosophy explains that there are two types of kings:

1) One whose job it is to keep the people in line.

2) One to help lead the people to greater glory.

The first king is necessary when there is a depraved people that cannot control themselves. They need a king who rules through fear to keep them in line. The second king is for a people who have achieved personal greatness but need a leader to help them individually and communally achieve their greatest potential.  Samuel was angry that the Jewish people wanted the first type of king, while the mitzvah is for the second type of king.

A big election will soon be upon us. While in every election the stakes are high and the rhetoric fierce, this election is truly special, in a bad way. We have the most disliked candidates in the history of polling. How did we get here?

As with the king who matches the people he rules over, we, too, get the election we deserve. We have to do some major soul-searching (the month of Elul is a perfect time for that); what did we do to deserve such candidates?

A very large majority of us want to do good, be kind, and inspire our families and friends. We talk about it and think about it, but do we always match it with our actions? Are we kind to strangers, respectful to neighbors, and charitable in our communities? Do we control our anger when we want to lash out?

This week’s Torah portion tells us to raise ourselves up, and we'll deserve better leaders. Work on ourselves, our families, and communities, and we won’t get untrustworthy and fear-mongering candidates, but rather candidates whose main clash is how they can help us "be all we can be."

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