A key element to Judaism’s focus on time, and making it special, is a mandate to celebrate all of life’s blessings, or as many as you can notice. This mandate to celebrate is partner to another Judaic principle that people have difficulty applying: focus on the good more than the bad. Focus, first, on what you like in someone. Make time and put in effort to notice how much of the day is good, i.e. especially those moments that did not go wrong…that something bad didn’t happen. See and celebrate as many blessings as you can.
In the life of Jewish observance, the early morning Blessings of Appreciation, called Birchot HaShachar, (found on pages 103 and 104 in our new prayer book) put us in the “right” frame of mind (and heart) and set us in a good and proper direction for the day. Blessings you find in that litany give clues and ideas for what to notice and look for in the rest of your day…such as, don’t take for granted your unique ability to notice the difference between one moment and another; appreciate that you are made in God’s Image, in your ability to think and make decisions, i.e. to notice what is good rather than fixate on disappointments. Appreciate that you are free to have and hold your opinions and choose your attitude during the moment and the day; appreciate that you are part of a system, Judaism, which respects differences (respectfully) including your freedom to quarrel with God! Appreciate that you can always grow in wisdom and knowledge and become less vulnerable to what occurs out of ignorance; appreciate that you have clothing to wear, not as a fashion statement, but, as a reminder of walking modestly in the world; appreciate your physical health, especially those “parts” of you that are working in contrast to whatever pains and discomfort that mostly catch your attention; remember to notice and appreciate the beauty of the physical world; appreciate strengths that you have to move through the day; appreciate how, even when you are exhausted ,you usually find energy to move forward with your challenges and opportunities…and a number more of such examples of what to look for and notice as blessings and positives in the course of a day that has its ups and, of course, downs.
The paragraph that follows this “list” (on the bottom of page 104) is also insightful in guiding us in the direction of positive and constructive living, by invoking God’s help in minimizing your interaction with what is bad in life, including negative and or hurtful people and destructive “teachings” and behavior that diminish human life and values of caring and kindness.
Imagine how you would feel, in focusing on positive thoughts and feelings in your interactions, in seeing and saying what is good, more than being critical. The key is to turn from accepting these principles as ”interesting ideas” to applying them as practical applications, in typical situations.
Whatever it takes, make time to sit down and write a list of what and who are okay in your life circle. This is easier to do when you have someone who agrees with these premises; it is easier to turn a good idea into a done deal when you have someone with whom to share the energy and insights, as life’s daily adventure unfolds.
With all the negatives that can keep you from being and doing your best, you are blessed with a value system that acknowledges life’s struggles, disappointments and stresses, and offers ways and strategies to minimize them and alter their impact on your overall wellbeing. The antidote: find something to celebrate, and someone with whom to celebrate, and thereby be infused with life’s positive energy.
That is the intent of the Sabbath, beyond its restrictive associations: a context to filter out the bad, and breathe in the good, and use that process to change the energy and direction of your life, for the coming week and beyond. And, link this change in the direction of repair, i.e. Tikkun Olam; use this quest for good to work with others dedicated to fight the bad, i.e. any measure designed to make health care inaccessible to millions of Americans and unaffordable for millions more.
These principles of positivity that are central to Judaism provide the means in constructive and logistical ways to address and overcome the many obstacles we face as individuals and society in a world as riddled with uncertainty and, yes, negativity, as ours is, particularly at this time.
Make time to notice the blessings and the light midst the upsets and darkness that can undermine hopes and dreams of a better future. Our system teaches that, no matter how bad times can seem, there are always more good elements to glean and harness if and when we will choose to notice them and live in their light.
As a community in partnership with God, we are given the wherewithal to explore and embrace these positive possibilities together and grow in strength with each other’s help and care.
May your next celebration of a moment or appreciation of something or someone you value, open you to increased awareness of the joy of life that embraces you, along with the positive energy it gives you to generate more of life to elevate and to celebrate.