Randy Pausch’s last lecture links morality and purpose



Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Living your childhood dreams



“Brick walls are there for a reason,” wrote the late Dr. Randy Pausch, author of the best-selling book, “The Last Lecture.” A computer scientist and former professor at theUniversity of Virginia and Carnegie Mellon, Pausch argued that brick walls are not there to keep us out. If anything, “brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

On July 25, Pausch died of pancreatic cancer, having left this world much too early and leaving behind a wife and three young children. He was 47.

Having just finished his book, what struck me about him was not so much his tragic, premature death, but rather his vitality and his sense of perspective. Published before his death, his best-selling book is sweeping the nation, largely because it is an affirmation of life an affirmation of the here and now. It has become a popular literary wake-up call.

Titled, “The Last Lecture,” Pausch shares a number of personal anecdotes and insights throughout his 206-page book. The work is an outgrowth of a public lecture given by select faculty at Carnegie Mellon. The format of the talk invites a teacher each year to share his or her reflections on life with colleagues and students in an open forum. Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” was particularly poignant, given his terminal medical condition.

Apropos to our community’s upcoming celebration of the Days of Awe and, in particular, Yom Kippur, Pausch designates a chapter heading in his book: “A Bad Apology Is Worse Than No Apology.” In his words, “Apologies are not pass/fail.” Or, as he writes: “Any performance lower than an A really doesn’t cut it.”

I’m not in full agreement with him on this rarely are things all or nothing in life but that not withstanding, he does list three things, to which I agree, that must be included by the person who wronged the other for it to be an appropriate apology:

  1. What I did was wrong.
  2. I feel badly that I hurt you.
  3. How do I make this better?

Eight-hundred years earlier, Moses Maimonides offered the following insight into what constitutes a true repentant. In his legal work, Mishneh Torah (Hilchei Teshuvah 2:1), Maimonides suggests a good indicator of a truly apologetic person is one, who when faced with a similar situation, does not behave in the same manner. The feelings might still be there, but the behavior is different, improved, virtuous.

Like the Days of Awe that will soon be upon us, Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” reminds us all of life’s brevity. Like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Pausch’s book asks us to ask ourselves: What matters most in life? How can I live a more purpose-filled existence? How can I fortify my faith without becoming excessive? How can I live more in the moment, appreciating all that I have?

In that way, Pausch was a teacher’s teacher. Through his book and recorded lecture, he continues to teach all of us to pause and look within.

But as inspiring as his book is and as vital as his life was, we Jews need look no further than our religious tradition when fashioning our own “Last Lecture.” Though our tradition may not be a best seller, throughout time, it remains forever ageless, undiminished by popular trends, God-filled and when taken seriously, life-transforming.

Ich bin ein Amerikaner


“The world is waiting to love America again” ran the title of a recent London Observer editorial anticipating Barack Obama’s visit to Europe.

Love may be too strong a word to describe the world’s feelings for America when George W. Bush was first sworn in as president, but not by much. It’s surprising, but irrefutable, to look back at the numbers he inherited. Polls taken in 1999 and 2000 show impressive majorities of people in nations all around the world holding favorable views of the U.S. In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, when headlines declared “We Are All Americans” in many languages, those numbers went even higher.

But today, love is not much in the air. As the Pew Global Attitudes Project put it, “Since 2002 … the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world. Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available.”

Some examples: In Germany, our favorability has fallen from 78 percent, when Bush was inaugurated, to 30 percent in 2007; in Britain, from 83 to 51; in Slovakia, from 74 to 41; in Argentina, from 50 to 16; in Turkey, from 52 to 9; in Indonesia, from 75 to 29.

The Bush/Cheney doctrine, of course, was never about being loved. Instead, they said they wanted America to be respected, which turned out to be code for being feared. No one disputes that national security depends on strength, which includes military and economic strength. But it also depends on ideals, and it’s in that department — the values implicit in our actions — where the White House has lost the world’s respect and actually undermined America’s power.

Everyone knows the list of horribles: Unilateralism. Name-calling. Cowboy diplomacy. Pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol. Declaring the Geneva Conventions irrelevant. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Branding negotiation as “appeasement.” Preaching a “freedom agenda” while undermining domestic civil liberties. Supporting authoritarian regimes in the name of spreading democracy.

It goes on. And it has had an effect diametrically opposite to its intention. “Ironically,” the Pew project says, “the belief that the United States does not take into account the interests of other countries in formulating its foreign policy is extensive among the publics of several close U.S. allies. No fewer than 89 percent of the French, 83 percent of Canadians and 74 percent of the British express this opinion.”

For years, the Bush State Department has pursued numerous misbegotten and unsuccessful efforts at “public diplomacy,” based on the premise that what America has is a communications problem, that we need a more effective marketing campaign for our national brand. In fact, what we have actually had is a problem problem — a policy problem, an actions problem, a contempt for differing points of view, an arrogance about human rights, a penchant for demonization.

Yes, there are evil people and bad states in the world, and they want to do grievous harm to us and our allies. But there is scant evidence that the approach of the past seven years has effectively contained or defanged them. In fact, the Bush State Department seems finally to have recognized this. In its dealings with Syria and Iran, there is a belated, twilight recognition that talk is not the same thing as capitulation. The agreement at the G-8 summit in Japan to halve greenhouse gases by 2050 — 2050! — may be pathetic, but at least it is less pathetic than denying their human causes and their lethal consequences.

There is a good reason that entertainment is America’s No. 1 export, even at this nadir of our international reputation. The stories that Hollywood’s products tell, the values they embody, are hopeful, idealistic, celebratory of human potential and achievement. Yes, some nihilistic stuff is American-made and globally consumed, too. But by and large, people around the world like our entertainment for the same reason that we do: It comes down on the side of dignity, freedom and good triumphing over evil. That’s what America can mean to the world, and in some quarters — despite the bullying and blundering of the Bush years — still does mean.

When John F. Kennedy in 1963 told the world from the Brandenburg Gate, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” he was explicitly identifying with all people whose freedom was threatened. But there was an implicit message in his words as well: Here is what it means to be an American. Here is what the values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution look like.

As The Observer observed, the world is waiting to love America again. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have a tremendous opportunity to change the face, and to change the meaning, of what “I am an American” has come to signify around the world. For the sake of our national security, and that of our allies, it can’t come a moment too soon.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Full circle


My daughter, the animal lover, has a father who isn’t. A hamster is the biggest pet I’ve gotten talked into so far. It lives in her room, and basically I wouldn’t even know
it was there except for one thing — it’s nocturnal.

All night long I could hear Ruby the hamster running in its wheel. The endless spinning and squeaking was driving me crazy. I couldn’t take it anymore.

I marched into my daughter’s room, bypassing her and heading straight for the tiny workout nut. I was ready to snatch it and its blasted wheel out of the cage, when something made me stop. I stood transfixed at the sight of Ruby exercising, and it hit me how much the two of us have in common. That hamster is living my life, I thought, running, running, running in endless circles, and not really getting anywhere.

I granted a stay of execution.

For all of the benefits running in circles affords a hamster, there are no positive implications when we use the expression “running in circles” to describe our own lives. With all we have to do, it often feels that all we are doing is keeping up. The opportunity to move ahead somehow eludes us.

Ironically, this time of year is all about going in circles. But unlike the stressful, unconstructive feeling of running in circles that we experience in our weekday routine, the circles of these holidays have a definite purpose and a positive message. Both Sukkot and Simchat Torah are characterized by communal hakafot, or going around in circles.

On Sukkot, we hold the arba minim (the four species) and proceed in a circle around the Torah, thereby proclaiming its centrality and holiness in Jewish life. On Simchat Torah, we remove all of the Torahs to the periphery of the circle, and march around an empty center.

What is the purpose of an empty center? To quote Rabbi Solovetchik (zt”l), “The answer is that the center is not empty. God is symbolically there. When nobody is there, Someone is there. There is no place bereft of His presence. The encircling Sifrei Torah pay homage to their Divine Author, acknowledging that the purpose of Torah is to direct us to God.”
Whether we are circling the Torah or circling God, there are two mathematical facts about circles that have great theological implications.

The first is that all points on the circle are equidistant from the center.

When we march in the hakafot, we are demonstrating that the Torah belongs to all of us, equally, and that we all have equal access to God.

There is a beautiful Midrash about the arba minim that illustrates this idea. Consider the etrog, or citron. It has a good taste and a good fragrance, symbolizing the Jews who possess scholarship and good deeds.

The lulav, or date palm branch, has a good taste, but no fragrance. It symbolizes Jews who possess scholarship, but few good deeds.

The hadassim, or myrtle, have a pleasant aroma but a bland taste. It represents the Jews who perform good deeds but are ignoramuses.

And finally, the aravot, or willow, have no pleasant smell or taste, standing for those among us who, sadly, have no redeeming features whatsoever.

Only the etrog is “perfect,” but one cannot recite the blessing on the etrog alone. It must be held tightly together with the other three species in order to fulfill the mitzvah. God wants us to stand together. No one has to be excluded from His Presence. You can be a Moses, an Abraham, a Rabbi Akiva or an ignoramus who isn’t even a very nice person. As long as you stand in that circle, you have the same access to God and His Torah as anyone else.

The second mathematical fact about circles is that the starting point and the ending point are one in the same. When we march in a circle we keep returning to where we started, as opposed to marching in a line where we would move away from the beginning point. The whole of Judaism is predicated on this concept — that our history is not far behind us in some distant past, but that our heroes and heroines, and all of our collective experiences, are very real to us today.

We look to Jacob to learn how to survive an oppressive exile, and Joseph shows us how to deal with success in exile. Queen Esther ably demonstrates how to outsmart a manipulative, deadly enemy. Rashi is not some scribbles on a page, but he is our best friend when we study the Chumash or Talmud, patiently helping us make sense of it all.

We don’t “commemorate” the destruction of our Temple; we sit low to the ground and mourn the loss as if it happened in our own generation. We sit at a seder every Passover with the goal of feeling as if we ourselves left Egypt, not some group of slaves thousands of years ago. We have a State of Israel today because even after 1,900 years of exile, we felt inextricably connected to that land. Like a circle, we never move too far away from where we started.

Physically, moving in circles like Ruby the hamster is a frustrating experience. In short, it gets us nowhere. But philosophically, participating in hakafot, can bring us to a new place. A place where we reconfirm that God and His Torah are at the center of our lives; where we rekindle that sense of unity and equality among all Jews; and where we reawaken the past, and immerse in the lives and events that have sustained us as a people for thousands of years.

In short, it brings us full circle.

Chag sameach.

Steven Weil is rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.

Amy Klein’s bibliographical guide for the perplexed


“To the best of our understanding, God created the universe as an act of love. It was an act of love so immense that the human mind cannot even begin to fathom it. God created the world basically as a vehicle upon which He could bestow His good. But God’s love is so great that any good that He bestows must be in the greatest good possible. Anything less would simply not be enough…. God therefore gave man free will.” — “If You Were God” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (Mesorah, 1983)
 
“Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: You have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run — in the long run, I say! — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.” — “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl (Pocket Books, 1984)
 
“When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives; We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, our meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves; creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.” — “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron (Tarcher, 2002)
 
“Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life. We were made to have meaning. This is why people try dubious methods, like astrology or psychics to discover it…. When life has meaning, you can bear almost anything; without it, nothing is bearable.” — “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” (Rick Warren, Zondervan 2002)
 
“Tradition teaches us that the soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination. I understand therapy as nothing more than bringing imagination to areas that are devoid of it, which then must express themselves by becoming symptiomatic.” — “Care of the Soul: A guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life” by Thomas A. Moore (HarperCollins, 2002).
 
“Many of us go through the rituals of survival with a deeper sense of something greater, or even something smaller. We may crave spiritual insight, or perhaps we yearn for simple pleasures, such as the time to close our eyes and take in the smells of a flower garden, feel the sun shining warmly on our faces, or to relish the comfort of a cozy oversized robe and good novel…. Indulge yourself by prioritizing self-nourishment — everyone benefits when you feel good.” — “The Book of Small Pleasures: 32 Inspiring Ways to Feed Your Body, Soul and Spirit” by Matthew McKay, Catherine Sutker, Kristin Beck (Barnes & Noble, 2001)
 
“God gave us a world that would inevitably break our hearts, and compensated for that by planting in our souls the gift of resilience…. If we could not temporarily put out of our minds some of the painful moments of our past, how would we find the courage to go on? … But if we would not remember, would we still be us? Those painful moments are such a large part of making us who we are….” — “Overcoming Life’s Disappointments” by Harold S. Kushner (Knopf, 2006)
 
“It is a fact that everybody wants happiness and does not want suffering; there is no argument about this. But there is disagreement about how to achieve happiness and how to overcome problems. There are many types of happiness and many ways to achieve them, and there are also many types of sufferings and ways to overcome them. As Buddhists, however, we aim not merely for temporary relief and temporary benefit but for long-term results. Buddhists are concerned not only for this life but for life after life, on and on. We count not weeks or months or even years, but lives and eons.” — “The Meaning of Life” by The Dalai Lama (Wisdom Publications, 1992)
 
“Human beings best qualify themselves for the world to come through a combination of studying Torah and good deeds…. Thus even the belief in the world to come is, in Judaism, a motivator to study Torah and to perform good deeds in this world.” — “To Do the Right and the Good: A Jewish Approach to Modern Social Ethics” by Elliot N. Dorff (The Jewish Publication Society of Philadelphia,
 
2002)
“We’ve forgotten that as mere mortals we are meant to search as much as to find. After all, each of us has had only a few decades of what has been a 14-billion-year evolution. We are finite creatures. How could we possibly have access to what is infinite: some all-encompassing Truth about the world or even our True selves? The fact is, there is no issue, large or small, that we can understand fully. When we think we’ve found the final truth, we’re a little less alive, a little less awake, and the world itself is diminished.” — “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life” by Rabbi Irwin Kula with Linda Lowenthal (Hyperion, 2006)
 
“Judaism has survived 4,000 years, including 2,000 years without a homeland, without the Temple in Jerusalem, without any common geographical location, without support from the outside. Judaism and Jews survived because of the Torah. No matter where they lived, no matter what historical horrors or joys they experienced, the heart of their faith was carried and communicated through the way, the path and the teachings of the Torah.”

PASSOVER: 10 Contemporary Plagues


In the Passover haggadah, we read of the 10 Plagues that God sent to convince Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go free. The plagues — bloody, violent, magical — are a dramatic highpoint of the narrative. Mindful of the pain these plagues brought even to innocent Egyptians, Jews have traditionally spilled out a drop of their festive seder wine at the recitation of each plague.

We don’t suggest that these modern plagues are the work of a punitive God or punishment for society’s wrongdoing — we’ll leave that analysis to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

But we recall that with the original plagues, the rabbis tell us, the purpose was to instruct the Israelites as much as to punish the Egyptians. In that light, we offer 10 contemporary plagues, named in Hebrew, as an opportunity to mourn their victims and discuss how we can prevent them and their like from plaguing us next year.

Age of Amusement


A gentleman died and his family asked me to officiate his funeral. So we agreed to meet, his children and I, to prepare. Sitting around the spacious dining room table I asked them, "Tell me about your father."

After a long silence one of the sons volunteered: "Dad loved golf."

"Golf is good," I responded, "what else did he love? What were his passions?"

"Golf," they all agreed, "just golf."

"Just golf? What did he dream of? What were his values, his causes?"

"Well, he always wanted to live on a golf course…."

So I prepared a eulogy all about golf. (It’s not so hard to do: Eighteen is chai. He’s played his 18 and finally got his hole-in-one.) All the while, I felt the tragic weight of this moment: How can a human life be made so small? Reduced to this, to golf?

That was long ago. I have since learned that many people live lives, not as Thoreau imagined — lives of quiet desperation — but lives of amused distraction. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard proposed that no one could live the aesthetic, pleasure-seeking life forever because it must eventually grow dull. The pleasure-seeker falls into a cycle of addiction. To hold our interest, each pleasure needs a bigger one to follow. This is the lament of Kohelet in Ecclesiastes: "I said to myself, ‘Come I will treat you to merriment. Taste mirth!’ That, too, I found was futile."

American culture has accomplished what neither Kierkegaard nor Kohelet could conceive. We have cultivated a culture of such powerful distraction, entertainments, diversions, that today one actually can fill a lifetime with amusement, with golf.

When I was a kid, there were seven channels on the TV. Once you surveyed those seven and found nothing interesting, you turned the set off. Today, there are enough TV channels that you can spend the entire evening not actually watching anything, but just flipping through the channels — surfing the dial. And if not TV, there’s the Internet, DVDs and pay-per-view. That’s at home. Outside, there’s a whole universe of possibilities. In 1955, Disney invented the theme park. Now there are at least six within a day’s drive.

One-thousand years ago, Western culture knew an age of faith so the church was the central architectural feature of a town. Five hundred years ago, we began an age of industry and the factory was the town’s notable structure. In today’s age of amusement, the mall and its cineplex is the town’s most important place.

Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian, argued that every person has a God.

"God" he defined as each person’s "object of ultimate concern." But what if the object of ultimate concern is precisely not to have an object of ultimate concern? What kind of human being does that leave?

In the age of amusement, religion is dangerous. Religion asks annoying questions about life. Religion points out our shallowness, our life’s weightlessness. Religion demands our attachment to matters of eternal significance. This obsession with meaning and purpose undermines amusement — it embarrasses us — it gets in the way of golf.

But the culture’s will to amusement is stronger than its will to believe. In the end, religion is co-opted. Once, religion was accused of being so much empty ritual — form without content, rite without passion, authority without love. Now, we have a different problem: Religion is becoming another form of amusement. When its only goal is to pass a little time and make us feel good inside, when it ceases to challenge and to expect more of us, when it is afraid to point out the evil within us and to deal with the jagged edges of broken lives and a broken world, when it ceases to wrestle with God and with life, religion becomes a form of amusement.

Then comes a moment when this diet of amusement ceases to satisfy and to nourish. I worry about those who search for depth, but all they find is entertainment. They recognize that life is difficult, that the inner life is a place of struggle. They seek courage. They seek insight. They seek vision. But sadly much of what they find in contemporary religion is weightless amusement.

This week’s Torah reading was consciously timed by the ancient rabbis to fall in the week before the New Year. The reading calls us home: "You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God." (29:9)

The word, hayom (this day) noted the rabbis, jumps out of the text and into contemporaneity. "This day" is any day we turn from our distractions and amusements. "This day" is when we come forward to meet God and accept our role as God’s partners to heal the world. "This day" is when we bind ourselves to lives of higher purpose, and accept God’s blessings — blessings even greater than golf.

Shanah tovah.


Ed Feinstein is rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Healing the ‘wounds’


When rabbi and author Jan Goldstein was suddenly faced with the news that his 12-year marriage was ending — leaving him with primary custody of his three children — he felt his life was ruined, until he learned to make sense of his pain.

In his new book, "Sacred Wounds: Succeeding Because of Life’s Pain" (Regan Books, $24.95) Goldstein recounts his personal journey of self-actualization and offers a nine-step process toward transforming pain into empowerment.

"The pain is not going away. But it’s going to serve a purpose in our lives if we let it," said Goldstein, an award-winning poet, playwright and screenwriter, who is now happily remarried.

In addition to being instructional, each chapter includes a story about someone who has taken one of Goldstein’s nine steps. In "Step One: Acknowledging the Wound," Goldstein tells the story of Debrah Constance, a woman who overcame the obstacles of her three failed marriages, alcoholism, cancer and a near-death car accident, and used her own experiences to establish A Place Called Home, a safe house that today provides a nurturing environment to several hundred 9- to 20-year-olds in South Central Los Angeles. In the book, Constance says, "Coming to terms with my wounds has meant acknowledging and believing in myself. It has also meant learning to believe in others."

Goldstein said that while the book is always relevant, it is especially applicable in today’s time of war.

"The images and losses have an impact on all of us … and what they ought to be doing is reminding us what’s really important," he said.

Jan Goldstein will discuss and sign "Sacred Wounds: Succeeding Because of Life’s Pain" on Tuesday, April 22 at 8 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 111 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 585-0362.

The Consumer


Ancient Greek democracy created the “citizen.” Renaissance
Europe invented the “gentleman.” Colonial America produced the
“frontiersman.” Each human civilization, it seems, fashions
its own unique character type. And ours is no exception. Contemporary America
has spawned the “consumer.”

The consumer is a character type unique in human history.
The Greek citizen saw himself as an inseparable part of an organic community.
The European gentleman conceived of himself in terms of a code of obligations —
chivalry and noblesse oblige — that bound him to others. The frontiersman, a
loner in human community, felt himself an integral part of a natural
environment. By contrast, the consumer seeks absolute independence. He is
sovereign, complete unto himself, and in need of no one. No unfulfilled
existential need motivates him. The consumer engages the world only as a source
of stimulation and satisfaction. To protect his sovereignty, he presses every
encounter into the form and shape of a commercial transaction so it can be
easily controlled. Ever notice how the newspaper’s personal ads and the
classified ads are almost interchangeable? “Clean, quiet, reliable. Sleek
exterior. Warm interior. Runs great. Low maintenance. A steal at this price!”
Even the most personal becomes a matter of barter and trade. 

Henry James called America a “hotel culture.” A hotel —
where you eat and sleep, but never fully unpack and move in. You never set down
roots. You never really own the place. You can mess up your room knowing that
while you’re out, someone else will come and straighten up. You care nothing
for the people who live next door for soon you’ll be checking out and moving
on.  So, too, the consumer joins, but never belongs. Never will he allow the
obligations that come with relationships, values or community to compromise his
sovereignty. He has no attachments, only a series of limited-liability
partnerships.

In politics, for example, he has no deeply held convictions,
visions or loyalties. He asks only what his country can do for him. Candidates
are sold to him on television alongside soap and aspirin, and with the same
claims: New and Improved! Brighter and Cleaner! Quicker Relief! He doesn’t want
to be too deeply involved. The causes of the day, the problems of society, the
issues of civic life are not his personal concerns. He allows nothing to claim
him. 

Even in religious life, he is a consumer of services. He may
contribute but resists commitment.

He’s a member of the synagogue. He’s also a member of AAA,
Blockbuster Video, Blue Cross and Bally Total Fitness. And he has same
arrangement with them all: He pays his dues, drops off his kids, visits
occasionally, but wants and expects little else.  In a moment of crisis, he’ll
call for Emergency Roadside Judaism. Otherwise, he keeps his distance.

It works. In a culture so saturated with entertainment,
diversion and distraction, the consumer can always find something else to
occupy his time and make life pleasant. It works — until one of those life
moments arrives when all is called into question. And then the consumer finds
he’s truly bereft. He hasn’t the resources to construct a sense of personal
meaning. He hasn’t a community to offer support, nor the intimacy of a good
friend willing to listen. He hasn’t access to eternity, to deeper values, to a
larger narrative that would provide context and purpose for his struggle.
Having allowed nothing to claim him, he has nothing to stake his life upon.

“Let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among
them,” we are commanded in this week’s Torah portion (Exodus 25:8). An awesome
responsibility: Build a place for God in this world. A remarkable opportunity:
Create the conditions for Eternity to be present among us. But this is no
casual weekend project. We are commanded to bring our best — the best of our
hands, hearts and minds; the best of our resources. A sense of life’s meaning
isn’t a consumer product. The assurance of life’s purpose cannot be purchased
or rented. No infomercial can sell them. They are fashioned out of the gifts we
bring in response to the claim we feel upon us, the claim of a covenantal
community that asks us to share in the work of making a place for God in the
world. They are available only when one is prepared to donate the entirety of
the self. Greece had its citizen, Europe its gentleman, America, its consumer.
The Torah projects the character of the tzadik (righteous person).