William Hamilton

Thinking Highly

When somebody thinks highly of you, they’re paying you a compliment. It feels good. Perhaps there’s another way to picture thinking highly that also feels good. It involves looking up. 

You need to look down in order to watch your step. But when you start looking up, you notice things. Some brighter things. And when you make a habit of it, even better. After a while, for example, the afterglow of years in which your soul and the sky have been silent together, there lodges inside you a storehouse of faith. Faith not that things will always turn out well. Rather, a faith that you’ll be ok when they don’t. 

In this week’s portion of Torah, Leah looks up. She does so when, in naming her fourth child Judah, she pivots emotionally (Gen. 29:35). The names she’d given her first three kids had nothing to do with her hopes for their future. They were named to compensate for her being unloved. With a fourth child, she shifts from a preoccupation with what she lacks, to treasuring what she has: a growing covenantal family with a bright future. 

When people today spill into streets, spewing political positions, they’re also expressing emotional ones. Perhaps, primarily emotional ones. So many are restless. Literally, they cannot rest. They feel there are too many ruptures in their reality. Too much gloom in their everyday mental excursions. So, they imagine, staying passive is not an option. So they erupt. 

Thankfully, multiples-more of our neighbors and good-faith fellow travelers, daily reassure us that they know right from wrong. 

Yet too many of all faiths have bartered discipline for convenience, loyalty for prestige, trust for trends, and prayers for sermons. 

It’s traditional to begin each morning with these words: “Thankful am I, that my spirit has tenderly been restored inside me, through your great faithfulness.” Do you realize what that means? I hadn’t until today. It means the first word that passes through our lips when we open our eyes to a new day, is thankful (modeh). It comes from the same word as Judah (odeh) which Leah spoke when she named her fourth child and, in so doing, our faith and people: Judaism and Jews (Yehadut and Yehudim). 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel concluded, “By being what we are, namely Jews…we will aid humanity more than by any particular service we may render.”

Seven weeks ago, our beloved Jewish People was forced to become: rise-up nation

May each of us rise each day, thinking highly, living up to our people’s name. And, as we do, may we strive to fashion and manifest a good morning for all who are near and dear to us. 

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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