Last Sunday, my husband went to a franchise expo and returned with various nick-nacks for the kids. He gave my six-year-old son a pad and pen that he’d picked up. Jeremy was delighted and immediately started writing a story about our recent trip to Israel on the pad. At first he asked me how to spell each word. Slowly, Jeremy came to realize that he was able to write the words by himself. Over the course of the evening, he filled up almost half of the pad, describing our trip. He was exuberant to discover that he could write. A world was opening up to him for the first time.
I spend much of my time writing nowadays. I often think about the content of what I’m writing and whether it’s any good. But I take for granted the fact that I am able to write in the first place. By watching Jeremy discover the power of writing, I was filled me with a sense of gratitude for the ability to read and write.
In this week’s Torah portion, Leah and her sister Rachel are enmeshed in rivalry. They are both married to the same man, Jacob. Rachel has Jacob’s love but is infertile. Leah gives Jacob many children but doesn’t manage to attain his love. Leah names her first three sons names reflecting her desire for her husband’s love. For example, she named her first son Reuven (which means see-son) saying “Surely God has looked upon my affliction and now my husband will love me.” Likewise, she names her third-born son Levi (which means to join), saying “now, this time, my husband will be joined to me because I’ve given him three sons.”
However, having her fourth son prompted a change within Leah. She named him “Yehudah” which means “thank God.” Leah stopped searching for what she lacked; instead she became grateful for what she had. (Like Leah, my son’s Jeremy’s middle name is Yehudah, who is named after his great-grandfather and as an expression of our gratitude.)
Like Leah, I find that my children prompt me repeatedly to shift from dwelling on what I lack to focusing on what I have. They remind me of abilities that I take completely for granted. For example, Jeremy is dying to drive. When I pull in the driveway, he begs to take the wheel, even for just a second. Although I take driving for granted, I remember how devastating it was for my grandmother when she was no longer able to drive and how important it was to her sense of independence. As my children reach new milestones and dream of future ones, they remind me to be grateful for the ability to walk, talk, read, write and drive. They fill me with gratitude for the simplest, yet most fundamental aspects of life.
Sunday night, as Jeremy lay down to sleep, he asked my husband Tal: “If I run out of this pad, can I have a new one.”
“Yes,” he replied, “You sure can.”
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children.