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Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Yes, 2020 is the perfect year to be thankful

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Thanksgiving is likely the American holiday most closely aligned with Jewish values. And this year, especially considering all the craziness that has recently played out, is definitely the perfect time to be thankful.

Yes, there’s much about which to gripe but that shouldn’t get in our way of recognizing the blessings too. I mean, when President Lincoln instituted a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens" in 1863, it was still in the middle of the Civil War for goodness sake!

Which highlights a profoundly different perspective of the entire concept of Thanksgiving; it’s not (only) about appreciating the openly good aspects of our life, it’s also about recognizing the blessings within the difficulty that we face too.

We read in this week’s Torah portion about Jacob our forefather who suffered for years under his father in law Laban. Laban was a duplicitous and conniving individual who rescinded every agreement that didn’t result to his benefit. Jacob suffered under Laban for 20 bitter years, constantly being duped and lied to.

Why did Jacob have to endure these 20 difficult years? Chassidic thought explains that Jacob’s experience with Laban was in order to extract “sparks of holiness” that were hidden by Laban. In other words, there was a benefit to be found in all of Jacob’s suffering.

In our own lives too, it’s important to remember that when we experience difficulty, the entire purpose of these setbacks and obstacles are to enable us to grow.

Thanksgiving is not only about recognizing the open blessings in our life (and we all, without exception, have many for which to be thankful); it’s also about realizing that the challenges we face enable us to grow.

Instead of being cynical about Thanksgiving 2020, or bemoaning our current situation, it’s time we discover the inner strength and fortitude we each have.

Now is a good time to step up and express what our recent experiences have taught us, and that’s worthy of true thankfulness and gratitude.

Even better, use that gratitude as a stepping stone to implement positive change in your environment.

Getting unstuck

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It’s typical to withdraw inwardly when feeling down and out of sorts. When feeling sick, most people spend their time alone, away from others and caring for themselves. This is also the case when people are feeling mentally depleted, overworked or down - for whatever reason. 

While there are times that what’s needed is to indulge in some down time and reset, often the excessive focus on oneself can actually perpetuate the funk, leaving the individual worse than where they started. 

Counterintuitive though it might be, the solution is to work for the benefit of others. When something is highlighted and brought into clearer focus, it’s flaws are magnified as well. Withdrawing brings the focus on oneself and makes us all the more aware of our own frailties and failings. 

Shifting to consider how we can bring benefit and blessing to another swings the focus away from us and getting stuck in our “stuff”. More importantly, it elevates us to another level at which our issues are not true obstacles. 

With our close focus on ourselves, every bump is perceived as an obstacle. Raising above the self to focus on others helps us keep the inevitable bumps in perspective and realize how little they truly can interfere. 

On that note, it’s relevant to mention how our Torah portion begins; Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent searching the horizon for potential guests. Notable is the fact that he was then recovering from his circumcision, having been commanded by G-d at the age of 99. 

While certainly he could have been excused from hosting guests for a few days, he would not allow his discomfort to stop him from looking out for others. 

If you’re feeling down, consider how you can bring benefit and joy to another. The sooner you think about another, the sooner you’ll feel better about yourself. 

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