American Rabbi and Author
American Rabbi and Author
But even while we pray for life, we are mindful of the perils and uncertainties of life. The very spelling of the word calls attention to the vast contingencies with which life is fraught. IN the very middle of the word LIFE, there is IF. IN the middle of every life there is a big IF? Once we realize how central a position IF occupies our life as we look backwards, it takes only the most superficial reflection to grasp the role of IF in our life as we look ahead. Indeed, overwhelming uncertainty has become the dominant mood of our time.
If we are to face the advancing years with serenity and hope we must realize that God has arranged human life on an ascending scale and that every age has it own unique satisfactions and joys, just like every hour of the day has its own charm and loveliness.
The most compelling reason no one can predict the future is that the future does not exist? We have freedom of will to determine the shape of tomorrow by what we do today.
Where is God in this terrible tragedy? God is in the compassion we feel for the bereaved parents. God is in the sympathy and in the support that kind friends extend to the survivors. God is in the strength that the victim?s loved ones will somehow find as they make their way through the valley of the shadow. God is in the healing that will come to them ever so slowly but ever so surely. God is in the power of the human spirit to rise above sorrow and to transmute suffering into song, adversity into artistry, and pain into poetry. We come from God and we return to Him, and with the Source of life no soul is ever lost. God is also in the great gift of remembrance. As the poet said, God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.
Even while we mourn the death of a loved one, there is room in our hearts for thankfulness for that life? Sober reflection can also lead us to a more sympathetic appreciation of the vital role death plays in the economy of life. Life?s significant and zest issue from our awareness of its transiency, its ?fragile contingency.? The urge to create, the passion to perfect, the will to heal and cure ? all the noblest of human enterprises grow in the soil of human mortality.
If we are wise, however, we will accept sorrow courageously now that it has forced its way into our lives. Despite its forbidding countenance, sorrow possesses great potential power to expand our lives, to enlarge our vision and to deepen our understanding. It has played a beautiful and transforming role in the lives of countless bereaved who could say in a mood of melancholy gratefulness with Wordsworth: ?A deep distress hath humanized my soul.?
The most fateful choices are made in tragic loneliness. In the valley of decision, we stand alone, accompanied by our haunting fears and our stubborn hopes, by dread despair or gritty faith. Yet, though we appear to stand solitary, in truth we are accompanied by the tall and brave spirits who have stood where we stand and who, when torn between ?No? and ?Yes? to life and its infinite possibilities; by those who have had the wisdom to focus not on what they had lost but on what they had left; by those who understood that fate is what life gives us and that destiny is what we do with what?s given; and by those who, therefore, grasped the liberating truth that while we have no control over our fate, we do have an astonishing amount of control over our destiny.
Who will deny that it is in the very striving after these goals that life acquires its highest significance?
Every day we shall see about us evidence of human pettiness, greed, self-centeredness. But if we observe carefully we also see human nobility, generosity, self-surrender and genuine religious conviction and action. The cynic remember sonly man?s faults ? that is why he remains a cynic. The wise man remembers his brother?s virtues. Which shall we choose to remember?
It is a great privilege to be human. It is a great challenge to be human. If we believe in the power of man to grow, to repent, to improve, to reach beyond himself and into the lives of others, it is because we are not machines but children of God. Man is not, as one modern writer declared, ?a small but boisterous bit of organic scum that for the time being coats part of the surface of one small planet.? Man is the bearer of the ?Tzelim Elohim, the divine image.?
The road to fulfillment leads not to yesterday but to tomorrow.
Every one of us is endowed at birth with all sorts of magnificent possibilities and potentialities. There is a capacity for idealism, a yearning for truth and beauty and nobility, a sensitivity to the hurt of others and to the dreams and needs of our fellow man. In the hopeful dawn of youth we feel these stirrings within us and we promise to bring them to life. And yet so often as the years pass by we permit these promises to be swept under the rug of expediency. We chalk them up to immaturity and we go on to live ?more realistically.?
It is exciting to be alive in a time of change. All sorts of wondrous possibilities lie before us. But it is also bewildering to be living in a time of revolutionary change. Familiar landmarks are obliterated and with them there is lost, too, a sense of orientation. What happens to the old standards of decency? Are they now outmoded? What happens to the ancient teachings about honesty, morality, and human responsibility? Have they become archaic? What value do the old signposts have if people now fly at thirty thousand feet above the roads?
The true function of the pulpit is not so much to elucidate the obscure as it is to emphasize the obvious.
Faith in God cannot be an obtrusive idea quietly asleep in the dormitory of our mind. It has to be acted out in the arena of everyday life. Faith in God is not merely an idea the mind possesses; it is an idea that possesses the mind. Faith in God is demonstrated not in diction but in action; not in our creeds but in our deeds. What we believe is illustrated in how we behave.
It was and it is to do all that can be done to eradicate an evil thing out of our civilization? a thing so incredibly wicked that it would not have been believable of modern man if it had not actually occurred. This evil, this wickedness began with intolerance and hate in a few men?s hearts. It spread until it almost wrecked the world. Now the obligation is to remember, not in hate, not in the spirit of revenge, but so that this spirit cannot ever flourish again so long as man remains on earth. And to this end, let us begin, each of us, by looking into our own hearts.
Those who have gone before us have accumulated a precious legacy for us to enjoy, to enlarge and to transmit. Ours is the privilege to keep faith with the past, to give meaning to our present, to insure our future.
Fate is what we are given. Destiny is what we make of what is given to us. We cannot choose our fate but we can shape our destiny. And in that choice lies all the difference? We are not only shaped by our environment; we shape it. We are not only the creatures of circumstance; we are also the creators of circumstance.
Life is a journey, not a destination, and happiness is not ?there? but here; not tomorrow, but today.
Through the door of sorrow we can enter into the suffering of others. Our human compassion is kindled. Our sympathies are awakened. It can elicit from us powers of fortitude and patience which, but for it, might never have been quickened into life. Sorrow can also help purge us of pettiness and selfishness. It can, thus, bring us closer to our fellow man and help make us taller people. God does, indeed, open to us a door at the time when He closes the door of sorrow.
For everything there is a time? We do not choose to be born; we do not choose the time to die. But we can choose our way of life. We are fully born when we choose to live nobly. We cannot hope to avoid death, but we can invest a part of ourselves in the things that never die, and thus live on beyond our mortal span?We harvest what has been planted before us. The harvest of a life sustains and nourishes those who survive? In the presence of death we are reminded that now is the time to break down the walls of estrangement that separate brother from brother, parents from children, husbands from wives, each of us from God. This is the time to build up the bonds of caring that draw us closer to one another in tenderness and in love? We weep also for the days we have wasted, for the thanks we did not offer, for the tears we did not wipe away, for the gifts we did not use, for the good we left undone. Let us laugh with the hope that sorrow will teach us to do better and live more wisely in the days ahead? Death reminds us that it is always time to seek the good in each other for each other. It urges us also to lose the pettiness and callousness that diminish our stature and shrink our horizons? This is the time to keep in treasured possession our faith in the God who heals the broken hearted and bind up their wounds. This is also the time to try to cast away the bitterness, resentment and anger death leaves in its wake? Now is the time for the mourners to fight against despair and hopelessness. May they do so in the stubborn hope that the time will surely come when they will again know serenity of spirit and inner peace.
Life would become drab indeed and quite insipid to our taste if the years of our lives were not kissed each with its own charms and capacities, each with its unique colors and shadings. Life?s beauty comes precisely from the changing configurations and patterns of the years, from God?s great mercy in constantly closing and opening doors for us.
Through the portals of sorrow we can enter into the suffering of others. Our human compassion is kindled. Our sympathies are awakened. Grief can also help purge us of pettiness and selfishness. It can elicit from us powers of fortitude and patience which, but for it, might have never been quickened into life. Sorrow can thus bring us closer to our fellow humans and help introduce us to ourselves.
God is in the power of the human spirit to rise above tragedy, to go on after sorrow, and even to transmute suffering into song and pain into poetry. Got is in the great gift of memory that enables us to keep our loved ones alive and to take them with us as we journey in faith toward a beckoning brighter tomorrow.
Life?s most sacred dialogue, the human soul in communion with its God.