A Jewish meditation on the death of Steve Jobs

A light at Apple has gone dark. The sole image on its homepage is of its long shining star, Steve Jobs, who died today after an extended battle with pancreatic cancer.

Just yesterday, I was sitting with a friend who was delivering the play-by-play on Apple’s iphone4 announcement with childlike excitement. I was sort of stunned that such an accomplished adult could descend into puerile giddy fascination in an instant: Was this a 10-year-old boy unwrapping a present or a 30-something director of award-winning films? Then I realized, as he read line-by-line, each new feature as it was announced, that he was being seduced. Grown-up style.

“That Steve Jobs,” I said. “He knows the art of seduction. Whatever will they do without him?”

Then my friend said, “I think there are some stars that are too bright to last a long time, like somehow it makes sense that such a brilliant star would burn, burn, burn and then explode. It’s too much to be contained.” 

I thought of so many stars—movie stars, music stars, literary stars, science stars—who die too soon. I thought of Amy Winehouse; and how a melancholy Tony Bennett recalled to Jon Stewart what a “real jazz singer” she was. I thought of Ralph Steinman, the Canadian-born Jewish biologist who was selected to receive a Nobel Prize in medicine—three days after he too, like Jobs, had died of pancreatic cancer.

Long-burning light is diminished over time; by its end, may barely light a room. But some stars blaze hot, bright, and luminously every moment of their existence, giving off brilliance and blessing to all who encounter them. What human being could store energy enough to deliver such a blaze indefinitely? Every passing day must meet the dark. But what cannot last, what is rare, is treasured and sacred.

Steve Jobs was such a star. And now his earthly light has joined eternal light.