“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.”
Biting off more than most of us can chew, husband and wife authors Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams have taken on the enormously ambitious task of tackling that age-old question: How did the world get here, and does our existence really matter? Primack is a professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz, and Abrams a lawyer and writer with a life-long term interest in science; their new book, “The View From the Center of the Universe, Discovering our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos” (Riverhead Books, 2006), uses cosmology — the astrophysical study of the history and structure of the universe – to meld “Meaning” and science to reach a greater understanding of the origins of life. In the process they also show how humans have long sought connections between their actions on earth and the cosmos.
The book is dense and deals with many complex theories, histories and sciences in layman’s language. After examining the makeup and history of the universe using current scientific data, Primack and Abrams argue that humans hold an essential place in the universe and are not merely inconsequential beings in the great unknown. They argue that our current knowledge of the verifiable scientific theories, such as quantum mechanics and relativity gives us a unique understanding of the universe and the opportunity to shape the future destiny of the planet we live on.
The book discusses origin stories and myths from many religions, but it is the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah that best resonates with the authors’ view of our role in the universe.
“The interesting thing about the Kabalistic creation story — particularly the version of it that was developed by [16th century Kabbalist] Isaac Luria — is that it has certain similarities to the modern scientific story,” Primack said in a joint Journal interview with Abrams. “In the Kabalistic story the creation of the universe is connected to the human role in it, and that is what we are trying to do — connect people with the cosmos.”
Nevertheless, their own Jewish backgrounds did not limit their exploration, they say.
“Meaning is not owned by one religion,” Abrams said. “We are Jews, we think like Jews, but we don’t restrict ourselves to the imagery and the concepts that come from Judaism. We try to find the most apt mythological description [from any religion] for these concepts.”
Joss Whedon’s quirky space Western, “Serenity,” features outlaws who act like Wild West gunslingers, an assassin who forces his victims to commit hara kiri, a telepath who inexplicably goes berserk, a Buddhist planet — and Jewish nuptials in space.
Based on Whedon’s short-lived 2002 TV series, “Firefly,” whose fan base helped spur the movie, “Serenity” revolves around the outlaws’ attempts to discover the telepath’s true identity after she beats up everyone in a bar.
Enter hacker broadcaster Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz), who plays the bar’s security tapes for the renegades — as well as a video of his wedding to a bimbo android. In one of the film’s funniest moments, she looks on robotically as Krumholtz (CBS’s “NUMB3RS”) ecstatically stomps on a glass at the end of the Jewish ceremony.
Mr. Universe is not the first member-of-the-tribe character the non-Jewish Whedon, has created, says Jewhoo Editor Nate Bloom; his titular Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a sidekick named Willow Rosenberg, among other multicultural pals.
Whedon said he created “Serenity,” which opens Friday, as a kind of “Wagon Train” in space. That’s about how Gene Roddenberry described his conceit for the original “Star Trek” series. But unlike “Trek” and many other sci-fi works, “Serenity” depicts real, rather than invented, human religions. So while a Jewish wedding in space may sound offbeat, hey, just think of it as the final frontier for the Diaspora, though don’t expect bubbe to approve of the intermarriage android thing.
Suddenly, we find that an alternate universe shadows our world. Its inhabitants see our culture as their poison, our politics as their oppression, our freedom as their threat — The question is how we could have been so blind. Only now is most of America learning about fundamentalist Islam. Just one year ago, when then-candidate George W. Bush didn’t know the name of President George W. Bush’s best friend, the president of Pakistan, the public’s response was, “So what?” So, this: Our blissful ignorance turned out to be deadly.
What are the reasons we revelled in ignorance? Americans, ensconced on a continent oceans away from Eurasia, have been historically inward-looking.
Another reason can be found by looking at one American institution that has changed drastically since the attacks: television news.
As the hype correctly states, more Americans get their news from television than from any other source. Journalist Edward R. Murrow saw this potential long before anyone else, in 1951, when CBS showed the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge simultaneously: “No journalistic age,” he said, “was ever given a weapon for truth with quite the scope of this fledgling television.”
For some time now, that weapon has been woefully dull. Remember pre-Sept. 11 CNN? Squeezed between Gary Condit, the Beltway infighting, sports, weather, business and entertainment news was something labeled, “The Global Minute.” That’s it: 60 seconds to fill us in on what was happening with the other 5.9 billion people on this planet. Where were they suffering? Whom did they hate? What did they need? Weeks could go by without hearing a peep about South America or Indonesia, not to mention Afghanistan. Once I even timed a global minute. It lasted 49 seconds.
CNN was not the greatest offender — at least it spared a minute for the rest of the world. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, other networks sharply curtailed their spending on international coverage. News divisions were no longer seen as the standard-bearers of network quality: they had to turn a profit, or at least cover their costs, same as soap operas and game shows. CNN scaled back too, though with about 30 foreign bureaus, it stayed ahead of the networks.
And it stayed way ahead of our local television news. KCBS, KTTV, KNBC, KABC and KCOP used serious coverage of international news as a segue between Tom Cruise’s marital problems and freeway car chases. In the happy/glitzy world of local news, an in-depth look at oil policy or Third World ideologies went out with John Chancellor’s overcoat.
The stations argued that they were giving the viewers what they wanted.
Maybe so, but they were also abdicating their responsibility as for-profit licensees entrusted with public airwaves. When former Sen. Gary Hart released his commission’s report two months ago on the probability of domestic terror, how many stations covered it? If he had another affair while researching terrorism, then he would have gotten some airtime.
How did this sad, pre-Sept. 11 state of affairs come to pass? Television news producers are generally smart and committed people who spend an inordinate amount of time defending the product they create. They blame the penny-pinching network executives. Network executives blame the bottom line: Advertisers pay for ratings, not civics lessons.
And so the chicken faces the egg. Are we ill-informed because we don’t care, or do we not care because we’re ill-informed? I know that Jewish Americans, who do care about the Middle East and other faraway lands, are often ill-served by facile evening news coverage of Israel and its neighbors.
The solution is really simple: make international news as gripping and as relevant as it is. Nowadays, TV news is having no problem doing that: CNN and other outlets are giving us good, even courageous coverage at considerable expense.
It may be, when the lull comes in this war, that we will yearn to flip on TV news and see nothing but amazing animal rescues. But a lot has changed in America in the past six weeks, and judging from the high Nielsen ratings that CNN and MSNBC have been getting, so has our taste for global news. It’s true that sex and celebrity sell, but so, it turns out, do life and death.