American Rabbi and Author
American Rabbi and Author
Spiritual income from Judaism: (1) A sense of life?s worthwhileness and high potential worth. (2) A feeling of personal dignity as a creature of the Divine. (3) An awareness of belonging to a proud people and participating in a significant adventure. (4) A high ethical sensitivity which restrains and directs. (5) A round of holidays and a system of ritual which raise existence into living and redeem life from monotony and drabness.
We want to run from unpleasant duties, from nagging responsibilities, from life?s complexities and confusions. We want to run from harsh realities, from our fears and anxieties, from an accusing conscience. We want to run from boredom and bewilderment of existence.
A young man who was depressed by the evil, the suffering, the misery of the world complained to his rabbi: ?Why did God ever make such a world? Why, I could make a better world than this myself.? His rabbi answered quietly: ?That is exactly the reason God put you in this world ? to make it a better world. Now go ahead and do your part? I don?t know why God put us in an unfinished world. Perhaps life would have no purpose in a finished world.
How do I go on? The only honest answer is, ?I don?t know how to go on but I do know that others have gone on and you are probably as wise, as brave, and as strong as they.?
The challenge of life is to go on despite pain, to paint, as Renoir did with the fingers crippled by arthritis and to say as he did: ?The pain passes, the beauty remains.? The challenge of life is to be alive to its beauty, its joy, its? infinite possibilities. The challenge of life is to confront it with courage and wonder, to accept it for the precious gift that it is, to make the most of it while it is ours, and to leave the world a little richer for our having been here.
What has my life meant so far? What can it mean? What am I worth? Those who have discarded God will give us no comforting answers. You and I are here for no conceivable purpose, going nowhere in particular on a journey which is full of sound and fury but signifies absolutely nothing. You and I are, as one of them put it, ?Only a bundle of cellular matter on its way to becoming manure,? and life in the words of another, ?is a nightmare between two nothings.? But when God becomes the vital center of our lives, we get an entirely different set of answers. Your life and mine become infinitely precious because there is a spark of divinity aglow within us. ?Each one of us is a priceless mosaic in the design of God?s universe.? We are here at God?s orders rendering a command performance. And what we do with our lives is of everlasting significance. Life is an unending adventure towards the goal of becoming human. The cyclone of which we spoke at the beginning derives its extraordinary driving power because, as the poet said, in its heart ?is a place of central calm.? If we are to live our lives with courage, with compassion and with conviction we need God in our hearts to give our lives a place of central calm.
Aristotle ? Anybody can become angry ? that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way ? that is not within everybody?s power and is not easy.
How does time become holy? It becomes holy when a part of it is given to others, when we share and care and listen. Time is sanctified when we use it ? to forgive and ask forgiveness; to remember things too long forgotten and to forget things too long remembered; to reclaim sacred things too casually abandoned and to abandon shabby things too highly cherished; to remember that life?s most crucial question is ? how are we using time?
The eye designed for beholding virtue we have trained upon ourselves. This eye also works very well. IT looks at weakness and sees strength.
When we are engulfed by the black night of despair it is worth remembering that if we do not give up, if we cling to the precious thread of life, the blackness will be conquered by the dawn when the sun will be aflame in the east, bright with all sorts of unsuspected possibilities.
At the White House Conference on Child Study, there were listed nineteen requirements, the first of which reads: ?For every child, spiritual and moral training to help him stand firm under the pressure of life.?
How many lives have suffered a progressive deterioration of motive, a gradual contraction of purpose and shrinking of the horizons?
The ledger of Democracy is the sum total of the lines contributed by each of its citizens ? whether they be occupants of high political office or humble workers in a factory or on a farm. Each of us makes a contribution to the volume of America. What kind of passages are we writing?
When we learn to look upon the humble ground on which we stand as holy ground, we have acquired the greatest encouragement we need to fertilize it and make it productive. We discover the poetry that is ambushed in the prosaic, the glory that is embedded in the commonplace, the opportunity that is hidden in the thicket of thorn bushes.
Avoid getting hung up on yourself. A person all wrapped up in himself makes a very small package, and paradoxically a very heavy one to carry. Your life will become most worthwhile when you find a cause or purpose or person to which to dedicate a vital portion of yourself. Your life will be as worthwhile as the things to which you dedicate it? There is no shortage of causes which can benefit from your allegiance and in turn help you find high purpose and exhilarating adventure in the privilege of being alive.
IF reduces life to a question mark. God punctuates life with an exclamation point. IF makes us helpless bystanders. God makes us intelligent co-workers. IF leads us to despair, God whispers courage.
The moment of bereavement is the most dreaded of all moments. So deeply do we fear separation from those we love that we try desperately to prevent the very thought of it from stealing into our consciousness. When in unguarded moments it succeeds in breaking through, we hasten to expel the unwelcome intruder. It is therefore not altogether strange that sorrow finds us emotionally unprepared and perhaps even rebellious and resentful.
When you look at life, do you see only your life and your needs, or do you see the lives and the needs of others as well? Do you see life as a campaign of acquisition or as an adventure in sharing? This question is basic because it spills over into every area of life.
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.