Coffee. Some people drink their cup of coffee with a sense of appreciation for the smell of roasted coffee beans, the kick they get from the caffeine or just the chance to pause in their day as they brew it, wait in line to receive it or sit to consume this beverage.
The journalist A.J.Jacobs in his book “Thanks a Thousand” writes that “for most of my life, I rarely thought about my coffee unless it spilled on my jacket or scalded the roof of my mouth.” The book traces his quest to cultivate gratitude by tracking and thanking many of the people who made his cup of coffee possible. This gratitude trail, as he calls it, includes a wide range of people including his barista, the cup maker, farmers, water testers and truck drivers. It certainly enhanced my cup of coffee.
Gratitude is generally accepted as a key trait to a happy life. It is something we should be paying particular attention to this Thursday, on Lag b’omer. On this day, the 18th Iyar and the 33rd day of the counting of the omer, several events took place which express and remind us of the importance of fostering the trait of gratitude and appreciation.
The mann in the desert began to fall on this day. It is so miraculous, so exciting to receive food from the sky. A food which requires no effort to prepare, has any taste you desire and leaves no waste. Yet, like many blessings in our lives, when it falls day after day it starts to become mundane and we take it for granted.
One of the most well-known reasons for celebrating Lag b’omer is because of the cessation in the deaths of the twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva. A lack of respect for each other is the explanation given for why this plague took place. On this day it is so important that we repair this flaw and show our appreciation and respect for each other. All too often we take those around us for granted, particularly those we are most familiar with, those we live with or work with, or even ourselves… On this day we remind ourselves to appreciate one another, and through that to love each other.
Rabbi Akiva suffered a huge tragedy. It would have been understandable for him to give up and mourn his students as well as the loss of their wisdom. Instead, he found five new students to teach. Five, not twenty-four thousand, not even close. Just like Rabbi Akiva, by focusing on the positive that we do have, even if it is much less than what we could have or once did have, we too can still build a great future.
One of those five students of Rabbi Akiva, perhaps the greatest, was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon died on the thirty-third day of the omer. Rather than mourn his death, we adhere to his request and celebrate the day of his death as a day in which he fulfilled his life mission. Instead of looking at his death as an end to all his achievements, we acknowledge and appreciate all that he has given us.
The Kabbala, authored by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, assigns an attribute to each day of the omer. The attribute associated with Lag b’omer is hod sheba’hod. Hod, from the word hodu or modeh means to thank. This is a day of thankfulness of thankfulness, or we may call it a day of immense gratitude and thanks.
So, at this time, a few days before Lag b’omer, when we may be grumbling about another day off gan and school for the kids, let us drink that coffee and think with gratitude about how the drink actually made the journey to our cup. When we wake up in the morning we can choose to have intent when we say the prayer Modeh Ani thanking G-d for giving us a new day or consider starting to write a gratitude journal. Write a hand-written thank you card to someone, email someone you don’t know who has had an impact or influence on your life and thank them for their contribution, thank your child’s teacher or give the waiter or waitress an extra big tip and thank them with a smile.
On Lag b’omer itself, try to include an act of volunteering or some form of giving-even bringing an extra potato to the fire in case someone else forgot to bring one. Use a large sheet of plain paper as your tablecloth and let the kids write or draw things they are grateful for while you eat.
Think about playing a game of gratitude with your friends. This one, involving different colours, can be played with a packet of coloured sweets, like skittles, or by selecting a coloured stick from the game pick-up sticks. Assign a topic to each colour so red may be a person, yellow an object, green an event and purple yourself. As you choose a colour you name something you are grateful for connected to that topic. Another gratitude game requires a ball of string. Describe a trait or experience involving someone in the circle for which you are grateful. Throw them the yarn and have them repeat the process creating a web of gratitude.
I shall make a start on my gratitude journey now-thank you for reading this!