A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hope I Die Before I Get Old

I just came across an article about the possibility that we may, within this century, develop technology that will enable human beings to live more than one thousand years. That sounds miserable to me, but it would lead to an annual one year, instead of two weeks, of vacation for working Americans. Can that be? Someone check my math. Bathroom breaks of over an hour would be considered appropriate. The mind boggles.

The Torah repeatedly promises that our days will be lengthened if we hold up our end of the brit, the covenant. A random example is Proverbs 3:1-2:

My child, do not forget my Torah, and guard My commandments with your heart. For they will give you length of days, years of life and peace.

There are plenty of other examples. It is clear from the context of this and other passages offering material benefits in exchange for adherence to the divine covenant that these benefits are not to be pursued as ends in themselves. One should not think to oneself, “I want to live to see Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in 2050 – I’d better start keeping kosher.” Instead, our adherence to God’s law is a good in and of itself – the promises of material benefit, whether bountiful crops or long life, come to us as a happy by-product of our maintenance of the proper relationship with God. It also is an affirmation of God’s reality in the world – the rightness of the covenant is so absolute that the created world affirms it. Finally these rewards are a statement about the essential unity of the Divine and physical worlds. God’s creation is imbued with a sense of the covenantal reality that must be competed by human beings. Our relationship with God, in other words, is not intended to hinge on its separation from the limited, physical world – it is expressed through it.

All well and good, but the text clearly says that if we follow God’s Torah, we will be physically rewarded. Not True in my experience, and also morally unacceptable to me because of the punishment implied by the inverse: if we disobey we are punished.

Rabbi Kalonymous Shapira, also known as the Aish Kodesh, offers a new understanding of this – he promises us a different kind of immortality, that can be achieved through tikkun, repair of self. He writes the following in his Tzav v’Ziruz, a diary of reflections on seeking moral perfection:

If it is your will to serve God and to lift yourself up do not remain in your seventieth year of your life like you were on the day of your bar mitzvah. Every year set a goal for yourself, fashion yourself. If your name if Reuben for example, which Reuben will you be in the year to come? What will be his accomplishments, his service, his attributes? And this imaginary Reuben will be for you as a measure by which to measure yourself by, how much you still lack compared to this imaginary Reuben. If your service and the correction of your deeds is [tended to] each and every day, it will be enough to acquire the Reuben of the year to come. And if the coming year arrives and your measure yourself and you have not arrived at even a bit [lit: the ankles] of the Reuben of the new year, it will be in your eyes, God forbid, that your days will not be lengthened1. For [in this case] only that Reuben from last year or from ten years ago lives – and not the Reuben from this year; Avraham zakein ba byamim [lit: Abraham became old, he arrived in his days] – Abraham of today. He was of today not yesterday.

So, if we remain the person we were last year, we do not have a long life, so to speak, because who we are is consumed by the passage of time. But if we create a new person in our mind and strive toward that, we are constantly being “reborn” in this new possibility. Maybe not immortality, but a state of ongoing renewal and rejuvenation.

Immortality? Consider that Shapira’s wrote that during the Shoah, the unfolding of the holocaust as his community was being immolated. Now, sixty five years after his death he instructs us how to live fully, to become more than what we are – to move ourselves beyond the constraints of time through spiritual transcendence. The investment of the limited, physical world, with eternal meaning through words of hope penned during days of chaos and death a generation ago: that is immortality.


  1. Answer to Rabbi Josh’s article “Hope I die before I get old”
    If Adonai knows that 100 years from now we will have the slightest tinge of self-righteousness, arrogance, or belief in our own ability to solely determine our destiny, then even if at a tender age we are righteous, good and devoted to the Lord and Torah, we will not be rewarded physically, materially, or spiritually until we are completely broken and come crawling back to the Lord God Almighty of Israel knowing that we are completely dependent on Him. Therefore I think, Rabbi Josh, you do not fully appreciate the beneficial effects of not being rewarded for righteousness and goodness at too early and age or stage.
    I would caution you Rabbi Rose not to hope you die before you get old, because the Lord grants every wish if it will better the person and not harm others around him. Remember, Rabbi Rose, the shock of mortality should come way before the death bed to appreciate the Lord God Almighty of Israel’s provision of a messiah.

  2. Comments about Rabbi Josh, the brilliant young assistant Rabbi at Congregation Har HaShem
    Rabbi Joshua Rose is brilliant in his ability to express his thoughts and revelations in a coherent way. His thoughts, observations and revelations take on a much more mature nature than his age would suggest. He must have been very self-aware and also aware of his surroundings from a very young age to have developed such maturity so soon. Acceptance and dependence on the Lord God Almighty of Israel is very beneficial for developing maturity and gaining knowledge.
    Rabbi Josh has a gift of being able to focus his attention on the person he is communicating with in a group setting. In Torah study he is able to jump from one question to another without hesitation and be fully aware of what the question is, even if it is not asked in a very easily understood way. He is able to delay my distractive interruptions in a very polite manor and continue expressing his thoughts.
    This ability of his validates the person he is speaking to and allows us to listen and understand his expressions of his thoughts, which usually bring out understanding we were unable tp express and he usually adds some new and revealing insight about the subject.
    I thank the Lord God Almighty of Israel for helping me express these inner most thoughts.