It takes strength to do what must be done when the work is unpleasant and uncomfortable. It takes strength to persist in the face of obstacles, when it would be much easier to simply give up.

It takes strength to be polite to someone when that person has been rude to you. It takes strength to be truthful when a lie would be more convenient.

It takes strength to build for the future. It takes strength to resist temptations and distractions.

It takes strength to do what is right. It takes strength to make an effort when it would be easier to make up an excuse.

It takes strength to do all these things. And all the while, these are the very things that build even more strength.

Be truthful, do what you know is right, put forth effort when it is called for, persist, and the more you do so, the more easily you’ll be able to do so. Exercise your strength, and you’ll surely grow stronger, more capable, and successful in each endeavor.

 

 

— Ralph Marston

 

 

THE SHADOW KNOWS…

 

by

 

Rabbi Gershon Winkler

 

There is a 2900-year-old Jewish addage that goes lke this: “The life of a human is like a breath exhaling; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalms 144:4). The ancient rabbis, add: “Not like the shadow of a wall, nor like the shadow of a tree, but like the shadow of a bird when she is flying” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 81:3).

 

The distinction between shadows is obvious. The shadow of a wall or of a tree is temporary, it vanishes with the shifting of  sun light. The shadow of a bird, however, moves WITH the bird. Even as she is in flight. The bird’s shadow flies along with her and is in constant movement mimicking the movement of the bird.

 

We are in constant flux. Time shadows us, following our every act, our every movement forward or backward. Time does not simply pass us by, brushing shoulders with us in passing. Time carries us, envelops us, sweeps us along with it. “We journey with and within time,” my teacher Rabbi Efraim Zeitchik used to say, “we ride the waves of time, whether the tides are high or low. In a manner of speaking, we eat time, we drink time; we are shadowed by time.”

 

What a gift it is to take time to acknowledge time. To stop for a moment to receive the moment, to drink from its wellspring, to connect to it. To realize every now and then that we are in motion, our bodies are aging, our spirits are blossoming, our feelings are ripening. We are on a journey from and to eternity. We are being carried by a force so clear and real that we are blinded by it and often numb to it. Tapping into it when we can, gifts us with a reminder of the preciousness of our lives, of our mere existence. To experience Life, we need to occasionally feel it, to stop the world and get off. To know the shadow as well as the shadow knows us.

 

“How can one know life?” Reb Efraim would ask us. “How can we truly know it when whatever happened is already past, and what is going to happen we don’t know yet, and what IS happening we are unconscious about?” The missing link is the moment, the cognition of time in the present, of the shadow of our wings as we are in flight, in movement, in aliveness. Tapping into the Now restores the missing link that bonds past and future. No wonder the narrative of our Torah begins virtually every line with “And”, in Hebrew the letter “wahv“, which in itself implies “hook.”

 

“For if we are not aware of the present,” writes Rav Zeitchik, “then surely we will have forgotten yesterday by virtue of not having been there, and will then also forget about today by the time tomorrow arrives. And if so, what does one taste of the flavor of life?” (Torat HaNefesh,p. 290-291). Rather, by being present as much as we can in any given moment, we piece together the fragments of our life, so that our life is not random grains of sand cast into the wind but grains of sand that become integrated enough to forge rich clumps of fertile soil that foster our unfolding.

 

When we simply visit time from time to time, rather than fly with it, then our pleasures here are momentary, like the shadow of a tree or of a wall. Here now, gone in an hour or a day. Our moments of delight and inspiration become just that: moments, severed, broken, fragmented, disconnected pieces of some distant detached memory. Then our lives begin to feel like we’ve only lived, really lived, maybe a couple of days in all. Or like the Zohar puts it: “The human can live even a thousand years and still feel like it’s been only a single day” (Zohar, Vol. 1, folio 223b).

 

On the other hand, when we live with awareness of each moment, and its connectedness to all other moments past or present, then we thread our lives with so much more joy and mystery and bring cohesiveness as well as nourishment for our spirits even in times of hardship and pain.

 

This is a very ancient and important principle in Jewish thought, and one that has helped sustain our people and its sense of joy and humor through and in spite of millennia of oppression and tragedy.

 

The choice remains ours. We can be like a single breath exhaling. Here for a moment, then gone. Or like a passing shadow, a shadow in movement, the shadow of a bird in flight. Moving from eternity to eternity.

 

Time is more than the mysterious mover of our lives, the elusive shadow that knows and follows our every move. Time is the thread. And we are the weavers. And our lives are the fabric waiting to be woven.


 

Visit the website of Rabbi Gershon Winkler at: http://walkingstick.org/

 

 

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