One of the books that I have recently completed includes a passage from Talmud (Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend) that is delivered by a father to his son at the beginning of their Nazi experiences in Germany during World War II. Although I’ve seen the quote attributed elsewhere, the gist of it from Talmud is as follows: Life is but a river, with no beginning, middle or end. Our value is what we do while we float upon it and how we treat our fellow man.
Taken within the context of the Holocaust, the advice is clear and valuable. No matter what we may do, our actions and reactions will be within the course of the human experience. We can direct some of it but are incapable of controlling all of it. The best we can hope is to float peacefully along our individual and collective rivers of life.
Beyond that, how we treat each other is crucial. My guess is that our treatment of the other residents of this world becomes more important because it is one of those few things that we can manage. Our fellow men, likewise, can only control how they treat us and everyone else.
While initially this quotation seems dismal and sad, I believe that it is helpful and constructive to see ourselves as part of an entity much bigger than any one of us. As residents of that which we call existence, we were not present at the beginning of life and will not be able to see the end of it (we hope).
Whether or not that reality is good or bad is not for me to determine. But I do like the idea that the way I treat others is the means to improve and enhance life in general, both for me and for all those whom I touch, either personally or through my writing. That’s a considerable responsibility and one that I consider a gift and privilege. Shalom.