“It would have been enough for us.”

That phrase of the haggadah – in Hebrew, the more concise word “dayyeinu” – reflects the sort of gratitude that Rabbi Henry Glazer believes to be the central message of Judaism, and the soul of every ritual from a funeral to the Pesach seder.

“Freedom can be understood as the capacity to say thank you, to appreciate the giftedness of life,” he says.

With his new volume, “Dayenu: The gratefulness haggadah,” Glazer, who before his retirement served as rabbi at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, has applied the principle of gratitude to every aspect of the seder.

image
Rabbi Henry Glazer

Glazer’s focus on gratitude as a spiritual path emerged from a five-day silent meditation retreat 10 years ago.

At the end of the retreat, “I had the experience of a very profound sense of gratefulness for being alive,” he says.

“I decided I would take this experience and use the insight as a way to revisit what Judaism means to me and can mean to anybody.”

According to the haggadah, the slavery of the Jews in Egypt was ordained by God. So why be grateful to God for ending an oppression that God created?

“Essentially, that’s the question of why be grateful when there’s so much tsuris in the world,” answered Glazer. “Why do you thank God when you wake up in the morning if there’s so much tzuris in the world?

“I don’t think we have an alternative. There’s only one alternative to complete despair and pessimism, and that’s seeing the goodness of life,” he said.

Glazer acknowledged that gratitude “is a very hard approach to cultivate and arrive at. Especially if you’re suffering, it’s hard to touch gratitude. Thank God I’ve been spared real suffering, because I don’t know if I’d be able to follow this approach.”

Still, Glazer does have experience applying the teachings of gratitude to hard situations.

“Since I’ve entertained this way of thinking Jewishly, I’ve made use of it at funerals. Time and again, people approached me and said how helpful it was, how it helped them go from grief to gratitude.”

He quotes playwright Thorton Wilder: “The highest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude.”

What usually happens at a funeral, says Glazer, “is that people are angry. I tell them, thank God there’s the capacity to grieve, to weep. It helps us come to a kind of conclusion that these things are inevitable.”

Glazer, however, tries to go beyond that anger to a point of gratitude, where the mourners can say, “I’m really thankful for this person’s life, I’m thankful for the moments I’ve shared with this person.”

Glazer says this is the underlying, if often unspoken, message of the traditional Jewish funeral ritual.

“We end the funeral not by crying, not by wailing at God, not by coming to a conclusion of indifference. We end the funeral by praising God with Kaddish. Kaddish is praise. I cannot get a better proof for the necessity of gratitude in Judaism than Kaddish itself, because praise is gratitude.

“One of the reasons we do that is to reiterate in our mind, to gain the perspective that no matter how bad things are, somehow God is there and God has given us something to be grateful for.”

Said Glazer, “Jews find it extremely hard to hold on to this idea, because they’re caught up in a certain way of thinking. Jews like to kvetch. (Maybe human beings in general like kvetching.) Particularly Jews who have gone through the Holocaust. There’s so much anger and bitterness. Don’t we have to go beyond it? Can we stay mired in that bitterness indefinitely? There has to be a way to go beyond it. And one way to do it is to grasp on to gratitude.

“Each day, try to find ways to be grateful. It’s a way of capturing hope. And if you don’t have hope, you’re left with despair and a lot of hurt feelings.”

image
The Gratefulness Haggadah by Rabbi Henry Glazer can be purchased from Xlibris at
http://bit.ly/js-glazer, or downloaded for free from http://scr.bi/js-grateful.