This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.
A couple of months ago, Erka Napoletano wrote about an experience she had giving a gift to someone who was less than gracious in their response. You can read it here (note: Erika doesn’t pull punches or filter her language).
Her piece made me think (I’m pretty sure it was supposed to) about how we often overlook the effort or meaning – or even the existence of the gifts we are being given. This, in turn, reminded me of “The Daddy Prize”, an essay by Robert Fulgham. When he realizes what he was given, Fulgham writes:
“Molly had given me her treasures. All that a seven-year-old held dear. Love in a paper sack. And not only had I missed it, I had thrown it in the wastebasket. Dear God. I felt my Daddy Permit was about to run out.”
We do this. All of us. In our mad and frequently selfish rush through our day, imagining ourselves to be the star of our personal movie, we lose sight of the effort it takes for others to reach out to us and give. And how often that happens.
Rabbi Yaakov Labinsky of Becoming Divine once gave a talk that put this in an interesting light for me. (I’m paraphrasing here)
“Imagine you are sitting at home, when there’s a knock on the door, and it’s someone delivering a present. It’s all wrapped up with a card. When you open it, you discover it is extremely valuable and extremely rare. You would probably be thrilled to receive this gift, even if you felt a little awed that someone went to the time and expense to send it to you. But… as soon as you finished unwrapping that gift, there’s another knock on the door, and another gift. Once again it’s incredible valuable and it’s from the same person. And the moment you finish unwrapping that one, you receive another. And another.
How many of these expensive gifts would it take before you became completely overwhelmed? Before you called up the giver to not only thank them, but to explain how you don’t think you could ever reciprocate. Each gift was more than you would ever have to spend, and all together the cost is staggering.”
But God gives us these gifts every day. We breath. Our heart beats. We enjoy innumerable pleasures. We avoid innumerable hardships. All of that comes from God.”
There is no way to repay a heartbeat, or the taste of chocolate, or an uneventful dentist visit.
But to Ms. Napoletano’s point, how often do we fail to show the most basic gratitude to the Giver? To be clear, I’m not suggesting that God is “hurt” by our failure to graciously accept the gifts He is giving 24×7. But I am saying that it doesn’t help us when we fail to set aside time for it.
Elul is a time to recognize we have been given a plethora of things – good, bad, exciting, boring – they were all given to us. Before we can even begin the process of teshuvah – of considering and repenting for they way we treated those gifts – we first must accept them.