A (very) previous post discussed the idea of being too grumpy for gratitude, with a focus on one humility-prompting passage from the morning blessings:

…Master of all worlds, we do not offer our supplications before You based on our righteousness, but rather based on Your great mercy. What are we? What are our lives?….Man barely rises above beast, for everything is worthless [hakol havel]….

Because of this, we are obliged to acknowledge and thank you…
— See “Is thanks ever simple? – part 2”

In that post, Ellen Frankel and Estelle Frankel (no relation as far as I know) are quoted on the concepts of “bittul/self-surrender” and a “healthy sense of entitlement.”

Admitting such truth is not simple. It requires that we abandon our grandiose childish sense of entitlement to God’s favor. We…are puny in God’s sight. Ultimately, we can only throw ourselves on God’s mercy.

But is this abject humility an honest expression of how we feel? Must we really live our lives as though we are so worthless, as though hakol havel, “everything is worthless,” as Ecclesiastes lamented?
— Ellen Frankel, My Peoples Prayerbook


Healing into our wholeness involves learning how to gracefully navigate our lives between these two opposite poles of yesh and ayin, form and emptiness. To do so we must learn to balance deep humility with a healthy sense of entitlement. We must be able to celebrate our uniqueness and feel a sense of joy, pride, and gratitude for our gifts and blessings, while also practicing bittul, self-surrender.
— Estelle Frankel, Sacred Therapy
full citations in previous post


Rather: “Because of THIS”

Quite recently, in Talmud class, I discovered a powerful passage offering another explanation for why we are obliged to praise God:

R. Shimi bar ‘Ukba (others say, Mar ‘Ukba) was often in the company of R. Simeon ben Pazzi, who used to arrange aggadahs [and recite them] before R. Johanan. [R. Simeon] said to [R. Shimi]: What is the meaning of the verse, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within [v’chol-k’ravai]?” (Psalms 103:1)

He said to him [i.e., R. Shimi said to R. Simeon b. Pazzi]:

…What I meant to tell you is this: To whom did David refer in these five
verses beginning with ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’? He was alluding only to the Holy One, blessed be [God], and to the soul.

  • Just as the Holy One, blessed be [God], fills the whole world, so the soul fills the body.
  • Just as the Holy One, blessed be [God], sees, but is not seen, so the soul sees but is not itself seen.
  • Just as the Holy One, blessed be [God], feeds the whole world, so the soul feeds the whole body.
  • Just as the Holy One, blessed be [God], is pure, so the soul is pure.
  • Just as the Holy One, blessed be [God], abides in the innermost precincts, so the soul abides in the innermost precincts.

Let that which has these five qualities come and praise Him who has these five qualities.
— Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 10a (public domain translation)

Perhaps it’s “because of this” — neither self-surrender nor entitlement, but a moment of recognition that seems to contain both — that “we are obliged to acknowledge Your presence in our lives…”

Rabbi Shimi’s teaching might be used as kavanah [intention/focus] for many a prayer, but I find that it fits particularly well in that last crescendo of praise leading to the Barchu.

[yishtabach shimcha la’ad malkeinu…]
We are all here today,
raising our voices to praise You,
our great and holy Ruler.

For it is appropriate to offer You…
our words, our songs,
our thoughts, and our feelings;
and to acknowledge Your power,
Your sanctity, Your greatness, and Your glory.
— p. 40, Siddur Eit Ratzon,
at the close of Psukei D’Zimrah [verses of song],
just prior to the Shacharit Barchu [formal call to morning prayer]

Posted by vspatz

Virginia blogs on Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day" and manages the Education Town Hall and #WeLuvBooks sites. More at Vspatz.wordpress.com

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