Jonathan Muskat created the topic: Colin Kaepernick, Gratitude and Elul
Much of the talk in sports radio over the past week or so has been San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s stance of not standing during the national anthem during preseason football games. His refusal was based on a decision not to show pride in a flag for a country that oppressed black people and people of color. On the one hand, the purpose of the national anthem is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect upon the great liberties that we are afforded as citizens so by not standing we dishonor the United States and those who have fought to defend its values. On the other hand, one of the most basic values that America stands for is freedom of expression and as an American shouldn’t he be applauded for exercising his most basic right to protest what he feels is racial injustice?
I certainly applaud Mr. Kaepernick’s decision to protest racial injustice, but I think it’s wrong for the protest to be done during the national anthem, because how many regular opportunities do we have to truly reflect upon the blessings that we have been given in this country and to express gratitude for those blessings? In fact, the Torah in Parshat Re’eh emphasizes that there is a bracha and a kelala, a blessing and a curse, but the blessing is recited on one mountain and the curse is recited on a different mountain because it’s important that we identify what is a blessing and what is a curse and view them separately. If you find a blessing, express thanks and don’t dilute it by mixing it with a curse, by mentioning the problems, as well. Use the opportunity of the national anthem to express gratitude for the blessings of this country, and don’t dilute this opportunity by choosing to focus on the negative.
In fact, that is what our Sages provided for us by requiring us to recite so many brachot on foods we eat, on sounds we ear, on scents we smell and on sights we see, because a bracha is an opportunity to express gratitude; it is an opportunity to work on our midda of looking for opportunities to be grateful. But it’s not an easy thing to do because if we have the slightest bit of ambition in this world, then life seems to not be fair. Life is not consistent with out desires and expectations. Some people have more of some things than others, often for no apparent reason other than being at the right place at the right time.
It is so easy to complain about the bad in our life and the bad in this world and at times it may be constructive to do so and to protest in order to effectuate change, but the truth is that when we are grateful we feel connected. We feel connected to God, to each other and to life when we take notice of all the gifts that we have.
Elul is the month to express gratitude. This is the month to have increased concentration when we bless God for providing us with food, for clothing us, for helping us walk straight and for creating a beautiful sunrise and sunset. This is the month when we shout to the rooftops the acronym of Elul, ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me, because gratitude is the first step to teshuva. Gratitude connects us to God and helps us return to Him. Let us use the national anthem debate to help us look for more opportunities to count our blessings undiluted this month, connect with God and begin the process of teshuva.