Sunday, June 21, 2009

One Hundred Blessings

In the Talmud, one of our greatest sages, Rabbi Meir, teaches that a person should strive to say one hundred blessings every day.

This is no mean feat. Given the busy nature of our lives, uttering one hundred blessings daily would involve a lot of stopping to smell the roses. It would also entail appreciating many things that we tend to take for granted. That is, of course, exactly the point. We are surrounded by miracles. We should, by all rights, sing God’s praises each day the sun rises and sets, every time we pass a flower or fruit tree or, for that matter, another human being made in God’s image. But our sense of wonder is dulled by routine. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, “Just as a single hand, placed before our eyes, can hide the highest mountain, so, too, can daily life inure us to God’s miracles.”

By contrast, our discomforts and irritations always seem to remain fresh. We remember every time we are shunned, shoved, or slighted. We complain much more than we praise.

I am very guilty of this error. I have frequently noted the challenges I have faced living in Jerusalem. I’ve complained about the aggressiveness of life here, the noise, the macho, the arrogance, the lack of respect for personal space. All of these things make life here rather difficult for me. But I have been terribly negligent when it comes to expressing my gratitude for the hundreds of blessings that I have experienced here in the Holy City. And so, from here on, following a good piece of advice I received from my wife, I am going to try to start each blog entry with one small thing I’ve experienced that I am thankful for. I am not going to focus on huge, spectacular places and events, though Jerusalem has plenty of those; I am, instead, going to try to cast a spotlight on ordinary experiences of holiness—acts and occurrences, as it were, of grace.

For those who are probably now wondering, I haven’t bought a pair of rose-colored glasses. I will still speak, on occasion about the many aspects of Israeli life that trouble me. But following Rabbi Meir, I hope to spend more time counting my blessings than criticizing and complaining about what bothers me.

So. . . to begin, for today: as I walked past a local bus stop, I paused to read a flyer hanging on one of the walls. It was a death notice, announcing the passing of Fortuna Drei, a long-time resident of the Bakaa neighborhood. I did not know her—as I have not known anyone whose name appeared on one of these notices, which are posted nearly every day. But as I read it, I thought to myself: “What a wonderful thing, that every time someone in the neighborhood dies, news of their death is broadcast this way on every street corner.” While Jerusalem is a very large city, it remains a kind of huge extended family. Like most families, it is a little dysfunctional. Its members argue and act up and sometimes stop talking to one another. But beneath all of this, there is a kind of love. One person’s death affects everyone. In a cosmic sense, when a Jerusalemite is born, everyone celebrates. And when a long-time resident dies, everyone mourns.

That is what it means to live in community, as we do in Jerusalem--or in Boise, Idaho. It can be difficult, irritating, painful. But it is also beautiful and, above all, deeply human. Or divine. Or better yet, where the human meets the divine.

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