Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, I send along to you, as I do every year, my prayers for you and your families.
DEAR GOD, may we spend as much time thinking about our blessings as we do about our burdens.
What we lack is so much easier to see than what we have. One way to correct this spiritual imbalance is a technique I call spiritual balancing. I learned it from a painter who worked on our house years ago. I saw him lugging two heavy pails of paint up the stairs, one in each hand. I asked him why he didn't make two trips up the stairs with just one pail at a time. He told me that carrying just one pail would cause him to be unbalanced and would over time throw out his back.
By carrying two pails, he could both carry a heavier load and also remain balanced. What's true about pails of paint is also true about our lives. When you think about your sorrows, try to time yourself. Allow yourself whatever time you need to list and consider the reasons that life is difficult for you now. Then, force yourself to spend exactly the same amount of time listing and considering and being thankful for all your blessings.
I believe you'll discover that this spiritually balanced approach to the real truths of your life will give you a serenity that may elude you if all you think about is how you've been cheated. Our lives are much closer to perfect than we realize.
DEAR GOD, help us to see the evidence of goodness all around us as easily as we see the evidence of evil.
Superstorm Sandy was not just a meteorological event; it was also a spiritual and moral test. The fights at gas stations were facts. The outpouring of volunteer help and donations were also facts. Which facts surprise you more? Are you more amazed by human callousness or human compassion? Does the evidence of greed strike you as more typical of human beings than the evidence of goodness? Both are real, but both cannot shape our souls equally.
Philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that "Each man is the wolf of his neighbor." Our Bible teaches that each person is made in the image of God. Which do you believe?
An old American Indian story tells of a chief teaching his grandchildren that there are two wolves inside each of us: "One wolf is greed and one wolf is goodness, and they fight within us always." One grandchild then asked, "Which wolf will win?" The old chief answered, "The wolf that will win is the wolf you feed." May God help us feed the right wolf.
DEAR GOD, may we all remember that our blessings exceed our burdens.
Every day, we awaken to a new set of blessings and burdens, but every day we awaken, our blessings surpass our burdens. On our darkest and most dismal mornings, this fact is hard for many people to accept. We're so easily seduced by self-pity or by our powerlessness to heal and bring hope to those we love, but the overwhelming truth of our life cannot be spiritually distorted.
We are blessed and we are loved, and we are alive on this day. People who love us more than life also surround many of us. Those who are alone are not really alone. God loves us all and has given us all the ability to think and be curious and be productive and be helpful to others. These blessings properly understood help us to banish the sorrows of our lives.
Think of the homeless people who donated to the relief effort following Sandy. I think of the poor widow in Calcutta who brought a cold soda to a visiting priest. My Jewish tradition teaches that even if you receive charity, you must take some of what you receive and give it to others who are in need.