We are heading into the Days of Judgment and Awe which means that committed Jews are engaged in deep introspection. That is why I should have been searching my conscience. Instead, I was actually browsing my computer files. I was slightly horrified to discover a Musing that was meant to appear last May, but which I had inadvertently overlooked. Had it been one that I had written, it would have been one thing. However, it was a Musing that I had asked our newest author, Ruchi Koval, to write, sharing her wisdom with all of us.
One of the components of this annual period when we review our deeds of the past year and ask God’s forgiveness for where we fell short, is that this only works for actions that don’t affect other people. If I snapped at my neighbor, I need to tell her that I’m sorry. I might need to apologize to God for not living up to my potential, but my neighbor is the only one who can forgive my rude words. Fortunately, Ruchi offered her forgiveness when I apologized for neglecting her work.
On the upcoming holy days, as well as throughout the year, we address God as both our King and as our Father. So, although Ruchi’s words were written (months ago) specifically in regard to our earthly parents, I think there is much we can learn for all the relationships in our lives, both human and Divine.
(As an apology to all of my Musing readers for delaying access to Ruchi’s sage advice, I’m going to put Soul Construction on unadvertised sale for the next few days —15% off.)
This is what Ruchi wrote:
Here we are in between the bookends of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – two holidays designed to celebrate our parents. As a kid, I didn’t really do much for either day, other than write a homemade card for my parents and perhaps pluck some flowers from the backyard. And when I asked my mother, “When is Children’s Day?” she would laugh and say, “Every day is children’s day,” a joke which I failed to understand until much later. (It wasn’t a joke.)
But the truth is that every day is Mother’s Day and every day is Father’s Day. While I certainly understand the value of setting aside one special day to celebrate our parents, my insides rebel at the notion of reducing this responsibility to a single day, and the reason for that boils down to an important character trait: gratitude.
In my book, Soul Construction: Shape Your Character Using 8 Steps From the Timeless Jewish Practice of Mussar, I focus on eight character traits. The concept of the book is that “mussar,” an introspective study of one’s character traits, can be a powerful path to spirituality and growth. There’s a seemingly endless list of traits we can all work on in our lifetime, and gratitude is an important one. Gratitude is also a very significant step in cultivating another character trait, happiness – a link that I explore in the eighth and final chapter of the book
“Happiness is inextricably linked to gratitude. Gratitude is the precursor to joy…the more we perceive that we have, the greater the happiness quotient… let’s focus on raising our perception of how blessed we are…”
We arrive at happiness by looking around at what we already have and appreciating it, which brings me to the subject of parents. The Bible reminds us numerous times to honor and revere our parents, and the crux of this commandment is gratitude. While one should seek to cultivate gratitude to anyone who has done them a favor, and while gratitude is so delightfully gratifying for one’s own happiness quotient, gratitude to our parents is on another plane entirely. Parents have given us the most priceless gift, without which nothing else is possible: they have given us the gift of life.
Even if a person’s parents have not been the best, they have still given the gift of life, and for this reason alone we should try our hardest to cultivate respect and gratitude toward them. By the way, this commandment extends to anyone who has given and sustained one’s life: in-laws (for gifting your spouse with life), grandparents, stepparents.
Is this a hard responsibility? Yeah, it really can be. And depending on where on the continuum your specific relationship with your parents is, whether they were loving or not, whether your relationship was rocky or smooth, whether your parents are still in your life or not, will determine whether this calling is hard or easy.
This is where gratitude comes in. The practice of mussar teaches that we seek to improve our character traits not to do anyone else a favor, but for the purpose of our own transformation. Turning ourselves into beings of gratitude, especially when it’s hard, is what transforms us into deeply spiritual beings. This is the very definition of growth.
So how can Mother’s Day and Father’s Day be boxed into one day? Answer: it can’t. Use the day as an excuse to remind yourself that you owe your parents the earth, no matter what. Then do it again, every day of the year. Because gratitude doesn’t have an expiration date.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Susan’s Musings post.
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ON SALE THIS WEEK
Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity
All human beings say and do wrong or embarrassing things. After a while, the burden of continually disappointing ourselves relentlessly bears down on us. Our self-image withers and it can even seem that invisible forces are sabotaging our success. Without peace of mind and soul, every area of our life suffers.
Using lessons from the Jewish Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – Rabbi Daniel Lapin provides a guide to facing the mountains of mistakes we all make.