(with gratitude to Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, who planted the seeds of this idea in my head over 15 years ago)
I have been thinking about two English phrases lately – “taking something for granted,” and “it’s a given.” Both cause us to slough something off as too common to be useful, old information, routine on its way to rut. But think for a moment – if something is “granted,” it’s given freely, a wish come true; the “givens” in our lives are gifts that are shared with us through no merit of our own – gravity, sunlight, intelligence, creativity, conscience, to name a few. What we take for granted may be as far away as another solar system, or as close as our next breath.
The climactic verse of the entire book of Psalms reads, “Kol han’shamah t’hallel YaH,” most often translated along the lines of, “Let every soul praise God.” Often-times it is noted that the Hebrew word for soul, “N’SHaMah,” shares a root with “N’SHeeMah,” the word for breath. And so we might just as credibly conclude our psalms with “Each and every breath will praise God.” How is that supposed to work? I have sung/proclaimed/taught that verse in Hebrew hundreds of times. So what? What difference does it make?
When sharing Psalm 150 in the context of a morning/shacharit service, I often ask people to hold their breath. Only until they are ever so slightly uncomfortable and would like to take another.
Within a few seconds, everyone is breathing normally again, and we are reminded that, whether or not we agree on where our breath comes from or goes to, we must all agree that this most essential element of our continued existence on this earth is not ours to keep. Along with all of the elements of our bodies and the universe that enable us to breathe at all, each individual breath is a given, which we take. No matter the giver, it is a gift that has been granted, through no effort of our own.
Now, how many times have you received a gift from a friend, and have had the opportunity to say to him/her, “You know that ____ you gave me? I use it all the time!” What a treat to either share or receive such a comment.
How much the more-so when you can say, or get the chance to hear, “You know that ____ you gave me? I use it all the time … and I think of you every time I use it.”
Kol han’shamah t’hallel YaH – you know that breath I was just given? And the next one? And the one after that? I use it all the time. And if I can remember to literally “take it for granted” every time I use it, I will learn to truly appreciate it as a “given," and take special care as to how it is shared with the world.
It could be a game-changer.