A Meaningful Life
Dedicated by Ephraim Sobol in loving memory of his father, Shlomo Mordechai ben Yaakov a"h.
The Torah covers quite a bit of ground in a very short period of writing in
this week’s first parsha of the Torah. The ten generations from Adam to
Noach are dispatched of without too much detail or description. The Torah
its entire narrative does not spend effort to inform us of the
particularities of the lives of many of the people that it mentions. The
Torah instead concentrates on detailing the lives of the people whose
lasting moral impression on humankind was so great that they live on
throughout the generations.
The Torah in fact comes to teach us the great lesson of opportunities
granted and either frittered away or positively exploited. The Torah
obliquely mentions our father Avraham already at the beginning of its
narrative even though he will not appear in real life for another twenty
generations. The Torah thereby points out to us the truism that our rabbis
in Avot stated, that Avraham exploited his opportunity for spiritual
greatness and received the reward of all of the preceding generations while
those people preceding him did not, either out of passivity or willfulness.
The lesson here is obvious. In every generation, each and every person has
an opportunity to enhance spirituality and morality in the world. It is
those that exploit this opportunity that the Torah details and expands
They are the true builders of civilization and goodness in God’s world. The
Torah slows down, so to speak, to enable us to analyze their lives and
and to draw conclusions from this to apply to our own lives.
The length of life of the people that the Torah mentions in this week’s
parsha is also astounding. Centuries on end did they live and yet
they had very little accomplishment to show for all of those years. Though
length of life is certainly an important factor in one’s own life,
apparently it is not the most important factor.
There are those who accomplish much in a relatively short time and those
who leave little inspiration behind them after living many decades. King
Solomon in Kohelet makes note that even if a person lived a thousand years
that would not be a guarantee that a productive and meaningful life took
We are bidden by Moshe in his famous psalm to “count our days in order to
bring forth a wise heart.” The phrase can certainly be understood to mean
that one should attempt to make one’s days count as well. Our father
is described as having come to his old age with his days in his hand. Time
is a precious commodity and squandering it is one of our foolish and
Adam is criticized by the Midrash not only for his original sin and
expulsion from the Garden of Eden but for withdrawing morosely from life
so many long decades thereafter. Avraham is complimented for being active
and vital even till his last days on earth. The attitude of Judaism towards
life is to make it meaningful and elevating, productive and noble. It is
this purpose that we were in fact created.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Torah.org