A Reflection of Struggle and Gratitude: A D’var Torah from the New Member Institute in Aspen
Let every valley be raised
Every hill and mount made low
Let the rugged ground become level
And the ridges become a plain
I have always struggled with this passage from the Prophet Isaiah, but never more so than standing amongst the mountains of Aspen. Hearing this passage in isolation, it always feels to me more like a threat than the consolation it is intended to be.
In context, this passage makes sense. The Prophet Isaiah is speaking to the exiled Jews of Babylon. They are in pain and in mourning; this passage speaks to an easier path for them.
How many times in our own lives do we cry out and ask the Divine for an easier path? As we are trying to summit each particular trial of our lives, how often do we wish that the valleys would be raised and the hills and mountains made low to make our particular climb just a little bit easier, to make each goal just a little more obtainable. And as we climb each mountain, as the air gets thinner around us and as the steps get more treacherous, it is understandable that we ask for an easier path.
The theme of today’s prayer service is gratitude. Today let each of us try to be grateful for the peaks of the mountains that lie ahead of us. Being in this place, it is hard to desire that the mountains be made low. It is actually the incredible, dazzling heights of these mountains that draw us in. It is the beauty of the diversity from the green valleys to the snow-capped peaks that awes us. We know the struggles in climbing these mountains but it is because of these struggles – and not despite them – that the mountains claim their majesty.
I will admit I have struggled at times this week. At times, I have physically struggled hiking these mountains. I have also mentally struggled in being presented with complex ideas that could take me weeks or months to fully digest while being given mere minutes before we move on to the next astonishing idea. I have struggled emotionally as I have felt compelled to share my story with new friends who were complete strangers mere days ago. And I have struggled linguistically, asking both my mind and my mouth to embrace words and thoughts in Hebrew, a task at which neither excels.
So it is with our leadership journeys. Perhaps there is a Jewish leadership opportunity where the valleys have been raised and the mountains made low and the path easygoing, but I have never found such an opportunity. And while we can ask God for an easier path, another choice is to be grateful for the struggle along the way. We must trust our feet and our hearts and our minds to get us to each summit we seek in our lives. So let us take a moment today to be grateful for the mountains we face – both the actual mountains as well as the mountains represented by the challenges of each of our communities.
When we face a challenge, perhaps instead of asking for it to be made low, we should express gratitude with the same prayer we say on a mountaintop.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, oseh maasei v’reishit
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who create(s)(d) the works of creation.
May each of us find gratitude, meaning and fulfillment in the struggle.
Alicia Chandler serves as General Counsel for the Continuing Care Division of Trinity Health, one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation. Alicia’s areas of focus include home health, hospice, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living and senior housing. Alicia also serves as President of the Jewish Community Relations Counsel|American Jewish Committee, known as JCRC|AJC, an organization dedicated to representing the metropolitan Detroit Jewish community, Israel and Jews throughout the world to the general community, and to establish collaborative relationships with other ethnic, racial, civic and religious groups. Alicia has held numerous other leadership positions within the Jewish community, most notably serving as an AJC delegate to the 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Alicia graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and also has a Bachelor in Business Administration from the University of Michigan Business School, where she graduated with high distinction. Alicia is a native Michigander and devoted Wolverine. She occasionally writes for the Huffington Post. Alicia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.