“It occurred to me” a mourner shared about her recent Shiva experience “that I was surrounded by platitudes as much as by people.” Well-intentioned Shiva sharing can veer toward formulaic phrases. “You’ll be ok.” “We’ve all been there.” “Be grateful for all you had.” Yet quiet presence can be more articulate than perfunctory adages.
Grief can be a difficult companion. Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant write about resilience at crippling times. When she felt lowest, it was making a list of accomplishments, daily things done well, that actually helped Sheryl more than listing the things for which she was grateful. Counting blessings was less effective than counting contributions. This is because gratitude can be passive. Contributions, by contrast, are active, and can restore confidence in our capacity and in our impact. Gratitude, of course, is central to a humble sense of indebtedness for gifts we often consider givens. But when we’re feeling low, we may need to reacquaint ourselves with our strengths.
The particular Shabbat is identified for the consolation and comfort it seeks to impart. Annually following the calendar’s saddest day, Tisha B’av, a particular word – Shamor, meaning ‘be watchful’ – recurs twenty times in this week’s portion of Torah (also introducing the mitzvah of Shabbat in the Ten Commandments). Why? In the Bible, being a watch-person, a Shomer,, means more than observing. It means more than preventing harm or misconduct. It connotes active responsibility. Cain memorably asks, “Am I my brother’s watchman (Gen. 4:9) and Abraham’s merit is derived from having “kept my watch” (Gen. 26:5). Watching is not passive. It is a forceful engagement that impels responsible deeds. Watching and doing always go together. This is underscored by the last word of the portion itself (Deut. 7:11). Street signs these days may urge “See something? Say something” God’s Torah would add, “Do something.”
Lessons that bring us through personal grief can also help us communally. It has been a worrisome summer for the cohesion of our Jewish People Important voices currently seek to diagnose, treat, and heal rifts between Israeli and North American Jewry. Daniel Gordis points out that mistrust has consequences. Gidi Grinstein insists that it’s time for North-American Jewry to find the voice it deserves. And Yehuda Kurtzer summons leaders to recognize and begin to repair our transactional, dysfunctional rapport. What to do? It is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who sets forth seven deeds that reveal a way forward. May our contributions prove to be consoling and comforting as we reacquaint ourselves with our strengths.