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Life Always Interferes


Rabbi Berel Wein

There are many things in life that cause us worry and distress. God forbid, major health problems can suddenly and unexpectedly arise, thwarting all of our plans and programs. Outside occurrences such as natural and man-made disasters, wars, terrorism, violence, crime both violent and monetary are the everyday stuff of our media reporting and of our lives. Four months ago the fishermen on the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana shore were making a fine living for themselves and their families. And then the BP oil well blew its top and today they are on the verge of destitution and bankruptcy. Our future is always an uncertain one because of the fact that the events of life are subject to wild swings and unfortunate dangers, most of which we cannot really control let alone predict. Parts of one’s body that have performed perfectly for many decades suddenly no longer function correctly or "normally" - as though there is a normalcy to the human existence. We perforce are forced to attempt to have an optimistic view of life for if we constantly considered all that can possibly go wrong with us and our world we would be unable to be productive and mostly sane human beings. We simply could not function. So we live in a state of limbo, knowing and dreading the omnipresent dangers and uncertainties of life but yet planning and acting as though there is certainty in our future. This is the natural state of tension of all of us and it is one that never departs from our conscious mind no matter how hard we attempt to repress it. A famous Jewish psychiatrist, Ernst Becker, once wrote an excellent work entitled "The Denial of Death" describing this mechanism of human beings which allows us to live and hope while always being aware that life will always interfere and intervene in our matters.

The Torah stressed that mortality is the human condition from which there are no exceptions or escape. Yet the Torah demanded that we live cheerful lives and taught us that depression and dwelling on sadness only distances us from our Creator. We are to worship God in a sense of happiness and optimism. Divine inspiration cannot be achieved in sadness and frustration. Judaism, which teaches us that our soul is immortal, therefore faces the reality of mortality realistically but still retains a sense of eternity that every human being can attach one’s self to. There are so many events in our lives that we cannot control or predict so that worrying in advance about the unknown becomes futile. However regarding those things in life that are within our grasp and are part of our daily behavior and actions they have to be viewed as important matters. We should not procrastinate or delay the doing of good on the promise of tomorrow. The words of Rabi Akiva ring true down the ages: "Do not say I will postpone the study of Torah until tomorrow when I will have time and means for it, for perhaps that tomorrow may never yet come to you." Thus the rule of behavior that the rabbis taught us: "An opportunity to perform a mitzvah should never be allowed to simply pass." Life is too uncertain for us to allow delay and postponement to rule our good instincts and potentially holy behavior.

The Torah emphasized this point to us when it famously stated: "The hidden things in life - the future and the continuing interference of unplanned for events into our lives - belong solely to the Lord our God. But what is in our control, our current actions and behavior, is to be subject to the fulfillment of the Torah by us and our progeny forever more!" Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra once stated succinctly: "The past is gone, the future has not yet arrived and the present is but a fleeting moment, so humans have to make the best of life as it occurs." This follows the advice of the Psalmist - in this case our teacher Moshe - that we should count our days. Every day is a precious commodity and should not be squandered in pettiness, foolishness and sad evil. The importance of living life in this fashion lies at the essence of all Jewish thought and ritual. In fact it is the presence of ritual in our everyday life that allows that day - every day - to be special and worthy for today I am fulfilling an obligation to my Creator and thus binding myself to eventual eternity. Life truly intervenes and interferes with our plans and certainties but we have to rise to life’s occasions and challenges with faith, hope, alacrity and optimism.
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