William Hamilton

When grace is amazing

This week during Wednesday’s early-morning prayer service, I checked-in with Ben who’s begun leading us more regularly. I approached him and genially said, “I hope your dignity isn’t diminished if someone else leads today.” Ben smiled back and said, “Of course not. My dignity is enhanced by just being here in this space.”

His gracious response literally emitted grace. You know the feeling. It’s like the scent of an oven-baked cinnamon swirl. Or like a bundle of freshly laundered clothing with a twist of lavender. It makes your heart smile. It produces a moment of stillness that swells with sweetness.

Although grace seems more common in the Christian vernacular, it also has a Jewish accent. The Hebrew word for grace, chen, figures prominently at the conclusion of this week’s prophetic reading (Zech. 4:7), and in this week’s primary portion of Torah when Joseph reunites with Benjamin and blesses him with the words, “May God be gracious to you my son” (Gen. 43:29). Come to think of it, grace is what God gives our People when bringing us out of Egypt (Ex. 3:21;11:3;12:36). And gracing us with wisdom is the Divine action we appreciate three times each day when we get to the heart of the Standing Prayer (Chonen ha-da’at).

Moments of grace often result from tender things people say. Perhaps you recall that teacher who once told you. “I knew you had it in you.” Or when somebody you greatly admire gave you that encouraging wink when you needed a confidence-boost. For me, it was an overnight Camp Counselor who told my parents on Visiting Day when I was 11 years old, “Your son is creative enough to work for Milton-Bradley someday.”

As we celebrate the final days of Hanukkah, let’s pause to consider the intimate connection between grace and light. This gets expressed at the heart of the Priestly Blessing when divine light bestows grace (Num. 6:25).

Once upon a time, there was a young man who apprenticed to become a blacksmith. He watched and learned the techniques of the trade. Before long he could hold the tongs, lift the anvil, and even blow the fire with the bellows. He was thrilled to get a job at the royal smithery. But his joy was short-lived. This is because he realized that he had failed to learn how to kindle the spark.

You can be the spark that makes a moment of grace for somebody. Before the final lights of Hanukkah go out this Monday, consider saying something particularly considerate. Something you don’t have to say, but want to. Watch how it makes them feel. It’ll make you feel pretty amazing as well.

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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