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Gratitude: Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition!
We see what we choose to see. No set of data forces any rational thinker to accept that one theory or explanation is incontrovertibly true and all others are incontrovertibly false. This explains how good and intelligent and wise people on Ricochet can consistently arrive at different conclusions, even though we have access to the very same data. Whether we are talking of science or of politics, there is no objective inevitability to any of our arguments.
Instead, we are left with the things that we accept as true. Most people take our assumptions and presuppositions for granted, but some people (probably a very few), can and do freely choose to see things a certain way. And here we arrive at the nub of the matter, because of all the things that we can choose to accept or deny, gratitude is both the most optional, and also the single most important for our state of mind, the state of our families and the health of our society.
Indeed, gratitude is probably even more important, at least in terms of concrete results, than whether or not someone believes in G-d. After all, there are good and bad believers, just as there are good and bad atheists. But people who consistently choose to be grateful and appreciative of all that they are and all that they have, are invariably better people for it.
Still: gratitude remains nothing more or less than a choice, a state of mind. Even more than this, feeling grateful is something that we can induce entirely within our own thoughts; it is artificial. In other words: whether we are grateful or not is a choice that we make; it is proof that free will exists.
We see what we choose to see. When Abram fought the battle of the four kings, the King of Sodom attributed the victory to Abram, while another king, Malchizedek, credited G-d with the victory. There is no way to empirically prove whether it was Abram or G-d who deserved the credit – indeed, the Torah itself merely says that Avram was victorious. In other words, the Torah is telling us something that philosophers of science have long known: For any given body of data, there are always at least two equally plausible explanations.
I choose to see G-d’s hand in every aspect of my life. Jews have a phrase for seeing G-d’s involvement in the fortuitous, hashgacha pratis, which loosely translates as “divine providence” or “serendipity.”
I choose to see all data through the prism of what G-d wants from me. When a stray thought comes to my while I pray, I consider it as “the still, small voice,” and I give it serious consideration. When I find, to my surprise, that I have a little extra time, I see it as an opportunity to write my post on Gratitude. Whether it is sunny or it rains, whether I feel well or poorly, I choose to be grateful to G-d for the opportunity to learn and to grow, and to accomplish.
None of this denies the “facts” of the physical world, of statistical chance or meteorological patterns. But, just like the cargo culter, or a global warming theorist, or a committed atheist, I filter all the data I receive through my prism of understanding. The difference between me and those aforementioned groups, however, is that I know that I am choosing to do so. I don’t lie to myself and others, and claim that all data points to my explanation and worldview being correct after all. Instead, I fully embrace the fact that, given the same data, @majestyk and I will reach different conclusions, and do so without any ill will. This is the way of the world, and it validates my core thesis: G-d gave us free will, and our choices matter.
Why, if I could choose another path, do I choose this one? In part, because my life is much more productive when I choose to be grateful for all that I have, for all that I and my loved ones have accomplished and achieved. I waste no energy stressing out about the things I cannot change; I do my part, with all my body and soul, and I am enormously grateful to know that G-d will take care of the rest. He always has, and I pray that He always will.
I also choose to be grateful because it makes the world so much more wonderful. Nothing blesses a marriage like a husband and wife who, on an ongoing basis, express their gratitude for all that the other person does. Nothing makes a child feel more love than a parent who is grateful for their contributions to the family and all that it needs. Gratitude is a recursive loving loop, feeding back on itself. But in order to “work”, gratitude must be personal.
The centerpiece of Jewish prayer is a silent prayer (amidah, or shemoneh esreh). In it, we praise G-d, and we pray for numerous good results. After each person has prayed silently, the prayer is repeated out loud by the leader, in every particular: except one. The section on gratitude is said by each person, on their own. It stands out. And the reason, our tradition tells us, is a simple and profound one: we can delegate our prayers. We can delegate our praise of G-d, and our entreaties to Him. But the one thing we cannot ask another to do for us is to say, “thank you.” That is something each person must do for themselves. (here and here is my choir singing the two versions together – the choir with the personal, and the cantor with the communal. See the note at the bottom for the comparative texts.)
After the Flood, Noah offers sacrifices to G-d (Gen. 8:20). In return, there are 17 verses (17 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “good”) of blessings from G-d. Why? Because Noah had done something incredible: he showed his appreciation. More than this: he survived the destruction of the world, and he chose to say “thank you”! When we take the time and make the effort to be grateful even for things that are, on their face, simply awful, our blessings multiply. Gratitude is the option that is always available to us, even in the face of despair.
Holocaust survivors were among the most dynamic people mankind has ever seen (examples). They, too, saw their world destroyed. They lost their friends, and their loved ones, their towns and communities – their entire world was gone. And still: An amazing number of them picked themselves up, and got to work. They came up from the camps and dedicated themselves to growing and building with a frenetic energy that mankind has rarely seen.
Gratitude is not meant to be passive appreciation: the Torah makes it clear that Good Works, not mere belief, are what G-d craves. The best example of this is Abraham, widely credited in the history books as being the “founder of monotheism.” But the Torah does not tell us how or why Abraham discovered G-d. Nor does it discuss his internal or external philosophical arguments or even his beliefs. Instead, the Torah tells us what Abraham did with himself. G-d’s purpose for Abraham is “..so that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right….” (Gen: 18:19) Abraham was valued by G-d because of his actions, not because of his thoughts.
Which is why gratitude forms the backbone of my faith, my marriage, my family, my business, and my life. I thank G-d with every thinking breath. I see all data through this prism: if something that looks bad happens, I choose to see it, as hard as it can be, as an opportunity for something better to happen as a result, or as a spur for me to get smarter or see things differently. Rebuilding the world requires an appreciation for being alive, gratitude for the opportunity to work and act and live.
Even in politics: others see a disaster, I see an opportunity – nay a challenge – to aspire to creating a better world. Every single piece of data can be seen through this prism: even terrible news can be seen a way for me to improve myself and everything I can touch.
So: there are a myriad of ways in which a win by either candidate can be parlayed into something that works out for the best, for at least those Americans who care about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am resolved to be grateful for the things I cannot change, so that I can be proactive about changing everything that I can.
I make this choice: The day after the election, we will wake up, give thanks to G-d and our loved ones, and get to work. Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition.
Noach was not the first to be grateful (Cain and Abel also brought “presents” (mincha), but Noach “raised up offerings” (ya’al olot) that were received as “pleasing spirit’) to G-d. The nature, content, and consequences of the offerings were qualitatively distinct, and it was Noach’s offerings that formed the foundation of tabernacle and temple offerings detailed elsewhere in the Torah. The mincha of Cain and Abel, by contrast, are the same word used to describe a present or a bribe – such as Jacob’s presents to Esau and bribes to the Egyptian overseer. So a mincha is for appeasement, while an oloh is a proactive show of appreciation. By combining physical matter with energy (fire), Noah showed an understanding of man’s core task on this earth: elevation of the physical world, the combination of life and spiritual energy as embodied by the burning bush. The Torah teaches us that this is holiness.
Here is Jonathan Sacks’ translation of the twinned words of gratitude as referenced above. Note the text, in the personal version: “to do your will and serve you.”
Published in Group Writing
I will be right there with you.
As they say in the country of my birth, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, and we’ll all drink tea.”
Ah, a cup of tea. The gracious beverage. It cures whatever ails you.
I’ll be drinking lots of tea.
As usual, this is wonderful, iWe. The whole piece, not just the quoted part.
As ever, informative and imperative…I thank G-d for you, dear friend…Oh, and AMEN!
A trenchant piece given that I am hunting this morning. Pass the ammo indeed.
Thank you iWe for this.
Thanks for this contribution, much appreciated!
Also, for the uninitiated, this post is part of a Group Writing series on Gratitude, planned for the whole month of November. If you follow this link, there’s more information about Group Writing, links to the other posts this month (the schedule will be updated with links going forward), and an invitation to sign up for an open slot. There are still available dates, so if you have something to say on the topic of Gratitude, please sign up in that thread. We hope to serve as a leaven for Ricochet leading up to and following the election.
In a few simple sentences – a path illuminated by old and timeless wisdoms is so sweet a way to acquire grace.
“Gratitude is not meant to be passive appreciation: the Torah makes it clear that Good Works, not mere belief, are what G-d craves. The best example of this is Abraham, widely credited in the history books as being the “founder of monotheism.” But the Torah does not tell us how or why Abraham discovered G-d. Nor does it discuss his internal or external philosophical arguments or even his beliefs. Instead, the Torah tells us what Abraham did with himself. G-d’s purpose for Abraham is “..so that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right”
Tremendous. As a lover of stories of perseverance, the dignity and resolve of Judaic faith has made me an unrelenting admirer of Jewish history and character it exemplifies in the face of malevolent evil. This is the crown jewel in what has been a rich day of posting on Ricochet. Thank you so much for this iWe.
I have nothing to add, just gratitude to iWe for once again inspiring me. Thank you.
Great post. Thank you, iWe.
Our personal prayers are very similar.
Your position on how we find our positions put me in mind of this
One more recommendation to upvote?
I would be grateful for the opportunity to share this more widely . . .
But now that I’m recommending I think I’ll also go ahead with a criticism or at least a question; it’s been hanging around in my brain for a while.
Excellent! I look forward.
I don’t think I have any need to object to there being “no objective inevitability.”
But you’re not denying altogether that they are objective, are you?
If you are, then I don’t understand the nature, perhaps not even the point, of the “validation” you refer to here:
If there were no objectivity to any of our arguments, then we couldn’t make any relevant arguments that rely on data which validate of our core theses. Nor could arguments against our theses based on the data be relevant–and either way there would be no point in pointing to the data.
I think you are asking ultimately that there must be an objective truth for all of us to recognize? If so, there are but they must be contingent on the forces that rule all of our existential conditions. Breathing, eating, gravity, death, and tacos (I meant taxes but I like that auto correct better). Beyond that as Locke had it, we are a blank slate with no innate knowledge, and our behaviorial impulses and thinking are predicated upon our individual experiences, interpreted through sensory and tactile observation.
Herodotus said “Circumstances rule men, men don’t rule Circumstances” but I would provincially add that Free Will is perhaps God’s most mystifying gift. A force that germinated from a spark to the conflagration of Human Society today. The Founders believed in the Clockwinder ideology where God created the mechanism of existence and gave us liberty to help navigate the resulting conundrums presented by Creation’s design.
Sorry phone died before my end point. Your assertion confirms my belief in peer reviewed notions. Only through a confluence of qualified reviewers and a plurality of recommendations then confirmation can we begin to approach a valid hypothesis.
No. (Or not yet.) I was just asking whether iWe thinks our arguments are really lacking in objectivity altogether (as some hardcore postmodernists say), rather than just lacking complete objectivity (as, e.g., Thomas Kuhn or my homeboy William James might say).
Yes, it’s much better that way.
Beware pure empiricism.
Also, iWe, do you think you can you clarify how G-d gave Majestyk free will since you also say G-d does not exist for Majestyk?
People who do not believe in Free Will do not, effectively, have it. Belief is a powerful thing. If Majestyk thinks he has Free Will, then he may. If Majestyk is convinced that he does not have free will, then he does not.
G-d blew His spirit into each person – our soul “on loan from G-d”. That soul makes it possible for us to be so much more than mere animals. We are limited by our willingness and desire to connect with our souls.
There is data – but we all weight it differently. Different people choose different time horizons, prioritize risk and reward differently, etc. It is a reason why marriage is so challenging: one truly must learn to understand how someone else, with the same data, prioritizes life so differently.
No data we can measure is “objectively true.” But it clearly can be useful data. We don’t know if Einstein’s theories will remain “correct” as our measurements improve. But we already know that Newton’s ideas are “wrong” inasmuch as they do not match the empirical data at very large or very small dimensions. Nevertheless it is the mechanics of Newton, not Einstein, that is used by almost everyone almost all the time. The point is that it does not matter whether or not Newton was right (he was not). It matters whether or not Newton’s mechanics are useful, and they most definitely are.
So we can and do point to the data. But the call on the data is rather more limited than scientists would have us think. We no longer trust “experts” since scientists in recent decades have shown the ability to completely disconnect from even trivially-verifiable data (such as whether or not there are basically two sexes, for example), or whether we are in a period of very high hurricane activity.
Society accepts a wide range of “facts”, and these “facts” have power, even when rational people know they should not. Compare Trump or Clinton with the biggest criticism of Mitt Romney: a dog on the roof of his car when he was very young. The allegation was very damaging.
So this argument about Newton being wrong was brought up recently and feeds into this. Newton’s laws are focused on mechanical physics and as such still are applicable. However they are based on Gravity being an unknowable force. Given his declaration of lack of hypothesis, it seems to me that Newton wanted to accept Gravity as a divine force
“I have not as yet been able to discover the reason for these properties of gravity from phenomena, and I do not feign hypotheses. For whatever is not deduced from the phenomena must be called a hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, or based on occult qualities, or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phenomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction.”
Considering the fall out the Church gave previous astronomers over the conversion from geocentrism to heliocentrism it is understandable why the devout Christian Newton left this as is.
Einstein’s precision comes from not only naming the reason for gravity but dismissing it as a false force and a result in the curvature of space time. Ideas that would certainly be considered heresy in Newtons day.
Majestyk can choose not to have free will.
Thank you again, iWe, for today’s ontological chew-toy. :)
On the theme of “thank God and get to work,” I’m reminded of this little poem (expanded from a sentence by Oliver Cromwell) on a sheet of Confederate States government letterhead:
“Stand fast by your cannon,
Let ball and grape-shot fly,
And trust in God and Davis,
But keep your powder dry.”
I second Percival. Have we made this get to Main Feed yet? If so, upvote it some more.
My apologies for my overzealous participation pulling us into the weeds. I am deprived of this intellectual and spiritual sojourning currently. I’ll refrain from digressions.