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The Wonders of Life
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

We live in a paradoxical time. We stand on the cusp of the Messianic Age, which will usher in a new dimension of and appreciation for life. At the same time, the very institution of life has never before been more challenged and undermined. While medical technology has made the most incredible advances in saving and prolonging life, society has experienced its utter devaluation.

Not long ago, the greatest blessing one could give another was to live to 120. Today many people shudder at the prospect of living that long.

The reason for this phenomenon is our proximity to the Messianic Age, when life will reach its zenith—eternal life! One of the 13 Principles of Faith articulated by Maimonides, based on the Torah’s explicit statements, is belief in the Resurrection of the Dead after the onset of the Messianic Age. The prophet Isaiah declared of that moment: “He will swallow up death forever; and the L-rd G-d will wipe away tears from off all faces.”(25:8)

Since G-d, in His infinite kindness, does not want to shock or overwhelm us, He has given us a taste of these future changes. We are therefore witness to new technologies, such as cloning, the growing medical use of stem cells, etc., to demonstrate that the world is about to experience an explosion of life.

However, we are still in the period of exile. The forces of darkness have yet to be vanquished and all positive phenomena are countered by a backlash of parallel negative energy. The explosion and proliferation of life that we now witness is therefore met with an irrational assault on life at both ends of the life-spectrum, the very youngest and very oldest among us.

Judaism has always viewed life as possessing an intrinsic value. Each life is an expression of the Divine presence in our world. Who knows what value a life has, even one that appears unable to contribute to society? In Judaism, next to G-d, the Source of all life, life itself is the most sacred of institutions.

When G-d created Adam and Eve He intended them to live forever. It was only after they partook of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge that death entered into the world. Thus, life in its original state is eternal life. However, even the lesser temporal life we experience today is inherently valuable.

There is intrinsic good and there is relative good. Since the sin of Adam and Eve all good contains an element of evil. In the Messianic Age, however, the evil will be expelled and good will be restored to its original unadulterated state.

One might be tempted to discount the value of the necessarily adulterated good we do now. To dispel any notion that the good we can do today is not worthwhile, our Sages tell us, “One should always engage in doing good even if it is for ulterior motives.” The rationale for this is: “From within the ulterior motive one will eventually do it for the pure motive.”

Chassidic thought explains that this point of view is not just a concession to our weaknesses and baser instincts. Rather, even the compromised good of today is intrinsically worthwhile. As Chassidus emphasizes by using the word “within,” the ulterior motive cloaks a fundamentally positive motive. Deep down, the person is motivated by a pure and holy desire to do unmitigated good. It just takes time and effort to allow that inner purity and good to rise to the surface.

As we stand on the threshold of a New Year and of the imminent Redemption we should focus our attention on cultivating life and goodness in all of their forms no matter how they may pale compared to the life and good of the future. Similarly, we must remove all forms of death and evil in preparation for the future, when only unmitigated life and goodness will endure.

May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet New Year; a year, too, of total Redemption.

 

 


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