Sunday, September 11, 2016

Elul 5776: Blessings and Gifts



Elul is the time in the Jewish calendar when we reflect on the past year and look to where we can improve in the coming year. For this year's Elul reading list, I concentrated on appreciating all the blessings and gifts bestowed upon us by God:

Miriam Adahan points out that It's All a Gift (Though It May Not Seem Like It at First Glance)(Feldheim, 1992). This volume is packed with insights for realizing the gifts we receive, even if they come in the form of opportunities or challenges, are truly for our benefit. One of the most important points is that you cannot be passive in this process. "There is no pill, blessing, charm, herb, therapist, rabbi or doctor that can give you maturity, strength of will, depth of understanding, a loving heart or a hard-working nature. It is your work, and yours alone, day after day, to overcome patterns of negativity which have been programmed into your mind and muscles" (page 326).


Wendy Mogel's The Blessing of a Skinned Knee (Scribner, 2001) is one of the most popular books in the Jewish parenting section of the library. Combining her education and experience in psychology with Jewish wisdom, she showed readers how to instill values and model behavior. Drawing again on her personal experience, Mogel's The Blessing of a B Minus (Scriber, 2010) givesus more of that common sense and steers parents through the teenage years, which are trying for both parent and young adult. As a parent of adolescents, besides validating my challenges and explaining why it is important for kids to experience failure and pitfalls, the chapter on "The Courage to Let Them Go" was particularly helpful.

In Moe Mernick's The Gift of Stuttering (Mosaica Press, 2016), he chronicles his challenges with fluency. Besides speech therapy and relaxation techniques, he also explored spirituality, realizing that God had given him this specific challenge for a reason. Seeing that another famous Moshe also had issues with speech, Mernick flourished when he realized that stuttering was just a small part of a total package. "After becoming comfortable with who we are, we begin to exude a healthy dose of self-confidence -- whether while on a date or at a business meeting or social gathering. People are attracted to that. After all, if we accept ourselves, it only follows that others will accept us too." Mernick is a successful businessman and educator.




On May 8, 2001, 13-year-old Koby Mandell and Yosef Ish-Ran were brutally murdered by Arab terrorists in a wadi a short distance from their home in Tekoa (they had to be identified by their dental records). I cannot imagine how a mother can cope with a loss of this magnitude. Sherri Mandell's The Blessing of a Broken Heart (Toby Press, 2003) was a 2004 National Jewish Book Award Winner. In it, she tells how she dealt with this tragedy and how it changed her. Instead of wallowing in sadness and anger, the family established a foundation that includes a camp for bereaved children and orphans whose parents or siblings have been killed by terrorists; women's healing retreats where groups and widows and bereaved mothers can attend workshops and take a break; family healing retreats, and other therapeutic sessions. A fundraiser for these activities is "Comedy for Koby," where the audience is entertained by a variety of comedians.


While many aspects of the book were very sad, there was also a beauty in embracing the sadness and moving past it:

"When you touch broken hearts together, a new heart emerges, one that is more open and compassionate, able to touch others, a heart that seeks God. That is the blessing of a broken heart."



"Pain is like carrying a heavy barbell in your backpack. You can't go as freely as you used to. But the more you carry it, the stronger you get."



Although not a Jewish book, The Gentle Art of Blessing by Pierre Pradervand (Atria, 2009) shows
"that the practice of blessing has the power to unleash tangible benefits into every aspect of your life." He draws on many traditions and shows how the practice of blessing can shift your attitudes and outlook. The chapters explore ideas like positive expectations, unconditional love and universal harmony, and at the end of each chapter are some questions for thought. While much of the book centers on a rather broad interpretation of tikkun olam, Pradervand also reminds us to be loving and forgiving with yourselves with the words of Zephaniah: "The Lord thy God is in your midst, the Mighty One Who will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will be silent with His love; He will be joyful over you with glad song" (3:17).


Wishing you a year filled with blessing and gifts and the discernment to appreciate them ALL.

Happy Reading!