The Gift of Being Present

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, December 29, 2021

We recently began the book of Shemot, the book of Exodus, which opens with the names of those who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household. The Greek word Exodus means to go out – as this section of the Torah covers the going out of the sons of Jacob (who is also known as Israel), so the going out of the Israelites from Egypt after the new Pharoah’s enslavement of them. The name of this book in Hebrew, Shemot, refers to the names of those who came down to Egypt. Although there are many instances of the people being enumerated throughout the books of Torah, Shemot reminds us that each one carries a precious name, possessing inherent value and unique potential to play a significant role in the world.

The theme of names features prominently in the telling of this story. When God calls to Moses and tells him that he will lead the Israelites to freedom, Moses responds: when the Israelites ask me: what is your name, whom shall I say has sent me? God answers “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”. This is a name for God that encompasses all of being – past, present, and future. The letters of this name come from the root letters in Hebrew that connote the very essence of “being”. To be able to name something is to be conscious of it. So, this Divine Name reminds us of the eternal now – the importance of being present.

Being present means being able to appreciate the goodness (or sometimes the real pain) of the present moment. It’s about not worrying about the past or anxious about the future. How many of us find ourselves being so preoccupied during a conversation with a friend, spouse or co-worker that you couldn’t really listen to them or remember anything they said. How many times have you arrived at a destination without really remembering having driven there, or finished a meal without having really tasted a single bite? We aren’t really experiencing our lives in the present moment.

There is no denying that it can feel very difficult to be present in these challenging times. Especially now as we face the Omicron variant. We have had enough. We may feel worried, checked out, angry, or anxious. Even so, it is important to recognize that feelings and experiences and moments arise, we embrace or fear them, and that they will pass us by. We all have faced both good and bad experiences. And we have given space for the appearance of both in our lives. Distressing times in life can be overwhelming. And our emotional responses are real, and they do affect our behavior, but they do not have to prevent us from being present.

During these Covid times I have reflected often on what my father z”l used to say to me when I was having a difficult time. He would remind me of the story of King Solomon’s ring, on which these words were inscribed: Gam Zeh Ya’avor – This too shall pass.

Things are always changing; good and bad things come and go. While our current reality is difficult, it is also temporary. And there are also hidden blessings that we have discovered during these challenging times – spending more time in nature, with family members, on personal hobbies, on reading or fitness. These blessings are also temporary.

Everything we think is permanent is only temporary and constantly changing. This includes our ideas, our opinions, our relationships, our jobs, our possessions, our creations, our bodies, everything. Each person is a world until themselves, unique in the universe. And each day lived to its fullest is a gift, never having existed before and never to exist again. How much more so is it important to be mindfully present, recognizing the unique blessings of each day. We all have the spark of that Holy potential the Divine Name of “being” within us.


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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