Drash on Parashat Eikev 2018
Rabbi Gersh Lazarow
Temple Beth Israel, St Kilda, Victoria
Finding Gratitude in Radical Amazement
I recall a joke about a 5 year-old boy who had never spoken a word. His distraught parents had taken him to every specialist, but no doctor of the body or mind could unlock the mystery of the child’s disability. Then one day, the boy’s mother placed his breakfast before him, and out of the blue he spoke up and said, “Hey, the toast is burnt!” The mother was ecstatic. Tears of joy filled her eyes and she asked the boy why he had never spoken before. The boy answered, “Well, up until now, everything was okay.”
This is what the Torah is concerned about in this weeks sidra, Parashat Eikev.
“When you have eaten your fill and built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Eternal your God.” - Deut: 8:12
There is a danger that when everything seems okay, that we quickly forget the Source of our contentment. We rarely pause during those good times to reflect on the fact that for everything to be okay, so many many things need to be just right, and that the odds are against that.
I try to remind myself occasionally that for my car to start and run smoothly, it takes hundreds of precision parts to function together in harmony. The car not running is actually its natural state. A misplaced wire or insufficient fluid will transform a vehicle into a very expensive pile of useless metal.
How amazing when it works – and how much more surprising when our lives run smoothly! This is precisely why our rabbis instituted the “Asher Yatzar” – our ‘Prayer for Health’ at the start of our daily liturgy.
PRAISE TO YOU, Eternal our God,
Sovereign of the universe,
who formed the human body with skill
creating the body's many pathways and openings.
It is well known before Your throne of glory
that if one of them be wrongly opened or closed,
it would be impossible to endure and stand before You.
Blessed are You, Eternal One, who heals all flesh, working wondrously.
- Mishkan T’fillah Pg: 32
We are easily lulled into a sense of security and complacency until “one of the body’s many pathways and openings wrongly open or close”. Sure, once the discomfort or illness manifests itself we find it easier to pray, to beseech God, to search our souls. It’s much more challenging to do this when “everything is okay,” and we don’t need to pay attention.
But if my experience with illness this past year has taught me anything (and I feel it is teaching me much), it is exactly that in today’s soft and (comparatively) easy world, that gratitude of what we have and memory of where it has come from is more essential now than ever.
Indeed, while there are many in the world who genuinely believe that “fortune favors the brave”, our sidra cautions us never to “…say to ourselves, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” - Deut: 8:17
The great Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel embodies for me the solution to our memory problem in what he called “radical amazement.” He said, “Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
So let’s take the Torah’s warning and Heschel’s solution, and appreciate the Source of our many gifts. And let’s do it now while “everything is okay.”