Humility and Gratitude
In our work, we are asked many important and profound questions: How can I be happier? Is it possible to balance success and spirituality? What is my life’s purpose? However, one of the questions we are asked the most is about what makes a person spiritual. It’s an important topic to consider, especially as we study this week’s portion of Ekev. Often, people assume that what makes you spiritual is simply being a good person. They confuse morality and spirituality. Of course, being good is important to spirituality, but the truth is that while every spiritual person is a good person, every good person is not a spiritual person. Spirituality requires something beyond just goodness, and thankfully it’s something that can be practiced over time. That something is gratitude.
At this difficult moment in the world, gratitude may feel out of reach. We’re all facing different challenges in what is being described as “our new normal.” However, the practice of gratitude is incredibly important if we want to maintain the great things we have in our lives in spite of the changing circumstances. We can think of gratitude as the vessel that holds our blessings within it. That means that when we lose gratitude, we risk losing our blessings too. For a better life, it’s crucial to be grateful for the one we have right now. Why are spiritual people so grateful? Because they know that they have the Creator’s system within them: the soul which is connected to the Divine who created all. That fact doesn’t change, so neither does their gratitude, even if their life situation does.
Ekev instructs us on how to develop this sense of appreciation that is so necessary to maintain and enjoy our blessings in life. Ekev can be translated in many ways, and one way is “the heel.” Why the heel? This represents the act of lowering oneself below others. It reminds us that it’s important to be humble and unassuming in life, as King Solomon echoed in the Song of Songs (Chapter 1, Verse 8): “go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.” This is how God tells us that, in times of difficulty, when we feel lost on our spiritual journey, the right action is to lower ourselves below others. When we embody humility, the universe will provide us with answers.
Humility is a sure path to gratitude. It involves lowering the ego, so that, rather than feeling threatened by the greatness of other people, you can instead feel blessed by it. Imagine you are sick and surrounded by the best doctors in the world. Would their impressive presence threaten you? Would you feel unpleasantly inferior to them and their wisdom? Or would you feel grateful, safe and blessed by them and their proximity to you? This feeling is accessible all the time when you let humility guide your responses to life. Being humble is not a matter of debasing yourself, performing inferiority for others, or believing that everyone is so much better than you. Instead, it’s about overcoming an ego-based reaction and allowing yourself to be delighted by all that is good.
Another translation of Ekev is “if you will listen,” which also suggests a path to gratitude. It’s simple — if you talk less, you appreciate more. By closing your mouth, you position yourself as ready to receive information, and in fact a fast of words can actually bring you prophecy, according to the Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria in his book the Gate of the Holy Spirit.
Bearing in mind the importance of gratitude to becoming a spiritual person, the guidance offered by Ekev is invaluable. It tells us that the way to develop a spiritual appreciation is to humble oneself, stay quiet, and look for the great things that are already present in our lives. When we apply this focused and intentional attention, we find that miracles are ready to reveal themselves to us.