By Rabbi Schwab
Gratitude is considered a powerful component of living a happy, fulfilling life both in Jewish tradition and in contemporary psychology. The expression of gratitude sensitizes us to the ever-present goodness in the world and the everyday miracles of personal kindness.
Cultivating gratitude is linked to a sense of optimism, peace, hope and spirituality. Journalist Ilana Harris noted that author A.J. Jacobs in his book “Thanks a Thousand” coined the term “gratitude trail.” This suggests that for each blessing in our life we trace the manifestation of that blessing from its origin to its reception and express gratitude for each step along the way. He demonstrated this by expressing thanks for each step that led to his enjoyment of his morning coffee, from bean to barista.
As Jews we actually do something similar ritually by reciting a Beracha before partaking of food and other pleasures. For example, “Hamotzi lechem min haaretz” – which thanks God for being able to extract bread from the earth. We do not just thank God for the wheat or barley but the bread, suggesting thanks not only for the crops but for the tools and human labor that it takes to turn the grain into edible bread. The Beracha acknowledges the many blessings it took to have that bread reach our mouths.
Gratitude is something we should be paying particular attention to today, on Lag b’Omer. On this day – the 18th of Iyar and the 33rd day of the Omer – Ilana Harris writes that several events took place which call for gratitude and appreciation.
First, according to our rabbinic tradition, the Manna in the desert began to fall on this day – miraculous food from heaven that sustained our ancestors in the desert. Such a miracle highlights our gratitude to God for all of the blessings we take for granted each day.
Second, one of the most well-known reasons for celebrating Lag b’Omer is because of the cessation of the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. A lack of respect for each other is the explanation given for why this plague took place. Today, of all days, we should make sure to repair this transgression by showing gratitude for the people in our lives instead.
Third, today is the day our tradition tells us that the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai died. Yet, our custom is not to grieve on his Yahrzeit but to hold a celebration with bonfires and gatherings. Instead of looking at the tragedy of his death, our tradition calls upon us to show gratitude for what he accomplished in life.
What is more, the Kabbalistic tradition associated with him assigns an attribute to each day of the Omer. The attribute associated with Lag b’Omer is “Hod,” from the word “Hodu” or “Modeh,” meaning to thank. Therefore, according to the Kabbalah, today is a day we focus on thankfulness and gratitude.
So, on this day and throughout Shabbat let us try to focus more on adopting an “attitude of gratitude” and to engage in acts of thankfulness: gratitude towards God and towards our fellow human beings. It is a Mitzvah, it is good for you and it will surely make your day and the day of those around you that much better.