Re’eh – 5780 – Do Our Best

By: Melanie Morris

Parashat Re’eh teaches us: If we obey God’s commandments, we shall be blessed; if we choose disobedience, we shall be cursed. Laws specify that our people must observe – be wary of false prophets, not consume the blood of animals that are slaughtered.  A lot of rules. But, being the eternal optimist that I am, I prefer to focus on the following: Parashat Re’eh tells us to “rejoice before the Eternal our God.” (Deut. 12:12)

It sounds easy and simple, so possible, but often worry simply gets in our way.  In reality, we have enough reasons to let worry consume our lives. We oftentimes are  disappointed by momentary glitches among our interactions with others. Trivial things can bog us down, along life’s larger issues: aging, health concerns, fears of our mortality, the threat of violence, praying for the welfare of the people we love. It can be easy to be worried or anxious, even about situations that have not even happened. We might feel vulnerable and that can interfere with being able to rejoice.

We recently have found ourselves in an unprecedented time – COVID19 and the incredible losses that some are experiencing around us. Some have lost loved ones, or you might know someone that has had such a loss. Some have lost jobs, or know someone who has. We might be lonely, bored, stifled from being able to move about as we please, go where we want to go, see who we want to see. For those that are economically challenged, it can be easy to focus on when that fear of not enough will abate. It can feel that life will never be what it was before, making it difficult to see the many blessings that do exist in our lives. Perhaps someone you know is having a hard time seeing that there truly is joy in our lives.

In Rabbi Artson’s words, “For the spiritually alive, life is a constant marvel. Without having asked to live, without doing anything to deserve the gifts of life, companionship, and joy, we are offered these gifts in an abundance that is staggering. Judaism helps restore our thanks for everything we receive so effortlessly. Serving God implies the capacity to feel gratitude, a response of joy to the many wonders of living.” We must go forward, taking it one day at a time, living life to its fullest, with gratitude and recognition for the blessings we have.

Each of us, given the space and time to reflect, has the ability to create a list of “miracles,” even when we have suffered loss. When we pay attention, the ‘ordinary’ becomes extraordinary and our sense of joy, if we are able to allow it, can take our breath away:

  1. For the miracle of the close ties of friendship. Friends can spend their lifetimes getting to know each other as people, growing to accept, appreciate, and love each other as independent human beings. I have interacted with my friends nearly as much during lockdown as I did prior to being quarantined. It’s just been in a different format – virtually. Because of lockdown, I’ve personally reached out to friends that I otherwise wouldn’t have and often hear others say the same thing – they are reconnecting with college friends or distant family members that they hadn’t connected with in years. This isn’t social distancing, it’s only physical distancing. I will continue to enjoy these interactions and will make an effort to continue even when quarantine is over. It’s a blessing to be thankful for.
  2. For the miracle of being able to build and celebrate community – the joy of connecting with each other on Shabbat – whether in person or online. I’m so grateful for this opportunity, that we have the technology to connect with each other and can feel friendship and support. I experience it when we pray together, when we do mitzvahs together, and when we eat together – I do miss that. You have become my “extended family” and I feel the blessing of community.
  3. For the miracle of being able to make this world a little better, a little more caring, a little more humane than it was when we entered it. Thank you to Brenda and Michelle for organizing the communal effort on the masks. I’ve enjoyed participating in that. To be honest, that opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time for me – when I needed to be busy as I transition into life as a single person for the first time in nearly 30 years. I am inspired by the generosity and warmth of the Kehillah.
  4. For the miracle – perhaps the greatest one of all – of simply being: having an opportunity to think, feel, experience, and wonder. Most of the time we take things for granted. At times, we rush around and fill our days with busyness when we might not need to. I sense that now, more than ever before. At rare moments in our lives – we have the chance to pause– we see the marvel of life, we slow down, maybe rest a bit more, maybe learn a bit more about ourselves and others and can realign our priorities. And I hope that all of us are aware of how important it is to appreciate the gift of a pause, savor the changes you might have made because of it and consider keeping that in your agenda once things return to “normal” and not default back into over scheduled activity.

Our tradition bids us to cultivate awareness, mindfulness, and beyond mindfulness, a thrill at being alive. Indeed, enjoying life is a way to say “thank You.” Let us also be reminded that Judaism calls upon us to remember those who cannot rejoice without our help. In the words of the Rambam, “the Torah sensitizes us to assure the joy of the powerless, the poor, and the stranger.” Reaching beyond the boundaries of self and embracing others as well, cultivating meaningful connections with our families, our communities, our people, and with God, we can attain a true joy.


One of the ways we can channel joy is through gratitude. I’m reading A.J. Jacobs’ Thanks A Thousand, A Gratitude Journey. This was a gift to me, from my son, which he gave to me during a time when I was not feeling very grateful and needed a boost in that direction. The idea of the book is deceptively simple: the author would thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey takes him across the globe and reveals secrets about how gratitude can change us all. Jacobs instructs the reader to focus on the hundreds of things that go right every day instead of the few that go wrong. Gratitude improves compassion, heals your body and helps battle depression. It can make our lives happier, kinder and more meaningful.

May each of us recognize our blessings, do our best. As Alan Morinis, founder of the Mussar Institute, teaches, to “weave thankfulness deeply into the very fabric of our being,” every day, and then we will truly be able to rejoice before G-d. Shabbat Shalom.