Right Here, Right Now, Is Beautiful

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, August 31, 2022

“I am grateful for the air I breathe
The orange trees, and the ocean breeze
It’s a part of me, yeah
And I am thankful for the ones who surround me
Stick around for me, take a chance on me
A second glance at me
‘Cause there are people I’ve yet to know
And there are people I had to let go
But I am right here, right now, and it’s beautiful”

        “Gratitude” by Mantragold (watch on YouTube)

This song is at the top of my Elul playlist this year. Give it a listen, it’s worth four minutes of your time. And, you might decide to add it to your playlist too. Elul is traditionally a time to immerse ourselves in spiritual practice to prepare us for awakening and renewal; for t’filah, t’shuvah, and tzedakah—reflection and prayer, forgiveness of self and others, and sacred action. We use this time to rehearse our best selves in preparation for the new year that is coming. Each day we recite Psalm 27 from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur. We hear the sound of the shofar. In our Machzor, our High Holiday prayer book, we read “Tiku bachodesh shofar – “Sound the shofar at the new moon” which we could also interpret as “Sound the shofar for a month.” And we engage in the spiritual practice of heshbon hanefesh, soul searching, reflecting on our own humanity. We take this time to reflect more deeply on who we are, where we have been in this last year and what we would like to become. For me, one element of heshbon hanefesh is a focus on Hakarat HaTov. The Jewish tradition of Hakarat HaTov, “Recognizing the good” is about Gratitude. Gratitude is recognizing the good that is already part of our lives; it requires us to think about all the things that we can be grateful for that we already have.

As Jews we begin each day with giving thanks. Birchot Hashachar, the morning blessings, are in the form of a meditation on thanksgiving for life itself. The first words we say each morning are the words of Modeh/Modah Ani, literally, “I thank you”, “Thankful, am I in your presence, Holy One who lives and endures, you’ve returned to me, my soul with compassion, abundant is your faith”, thanking God for the most important gift of all, the gift of life. (translation by Mosheh Ibn Machir, Open Siddur) This one brief sentence expresses a powerful statement of gratitude; life is a gift from God.

The short morning blessings that follow remind us to be grateful for the most basic capacities – to stand, to get dressed, to use the bathroom; all of which are the most fundamental parts of our existence and without which we would be unable to go on and do all of the mitzvot that we have the potential to do in each day. Woven into thousands of years of Jewish thought is the overriding idea that taking time to recognize what we have in life is one of the uniquely beneficial rituals we can undertake.

A big theme in Jewish gratitude is the importance of realizing you didn’t do everything yourself. In his book “Thanks a Thousand,” author AJ Jacobs embarks on a quest to thank every single person who had a role (even a tiny one) in making his morning cup of coffee possible. He thanks the barista, the farmer, the truck driver who transported the coffee beans, the folks who built the road for the truck, the people who painted yellow lines on the road so that the truck didn’t crash. Part of the essence of gratitude is that it recognizes that we are not the sole authors of what is good in our lives.

As we engage in our spiritual practices during this month of Elul, and every day throughout the year, may we live each day with gratitude for the blessings in our lives. May 5783 be a year filled with hakarat hatov, recognizing the good that is already part of our lives.

I look forward to sharing the High Holidays with you.

L’Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

« Read more articles