I’ve had the pleasure in recent weeks of doing a lot of reading about Albert Einstein. He has always been one of my foremost Jewish heroes, and learning more about his life and words has only emboldened this sentiment.
One of the common refrains in his writings is the importance of striving for a life of humility, curiosity and wonder. It is, I think, such an inspiring recipe for meaning!
Here is how Einstein would answer these age-old questions:
How Do You Stay Young?
In a letter to Otto Juliusburger, in 1942, Einstein wrote: “People like you and I, though mortal of course, like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live. What I mean is that we never cease to stand like curious children before the great Mystery into which we were born.”
How Do You “Succeed”?
From a letter to Mein Weltbild in 1934: “The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.”
What Really Matters?
In an address in 1936: “The aim [of education] must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, see in the service to the community their highest life problem.”
I had the pleasure — and at times Not So Much Pleasure — of thinking a great deal about these big Life Questions a few months ago, during a long hospital stay with my pregnancy. For five weeks, I shuffled up and down the maternity ward of Bryn Mawr Hospital, contemplating the little life that was overly anxious to come into this world.
What would I say at my son’s bris, if I could dare plan so far ahead? What kind of world was I bringing him into, anyway?
What was, without doubt, one of the most trying experiences of my life also gave me an awesome opportunity — the opportunity to see just how many other people in my religious community obviously embrace Einstein’s values. These were people who extended themselves, adding to their own burden in order to ease mine. People who saw “service to the community” as one of their highest life values. This service came in so many ways: cards and phone calls, food deliveries and babysitting offers. I could try to recount them all, but with a healthy little newborn in my lap, I blessedly don’t have the time.
In a day and age when synagogue and church membership rolls are lagging, it is experiences like this that remind me of just why it is we create these institutions to begin with. We create them to stay connected.
The Chasidic sage Rabbi Levi Yithak of Bereditchev once said that: “Whether a person really loves God can be determined by the love that person shares with other people.”
What you or I or anyone thinks when we hear that word “God” doesn’t, to me, really matter. What matters is that by linking our lives with each other, we transcend our finite existence and become closer to liberation from the self. The lovingkindness so many people demonstrated to me in the past three months has helped me do that, and for that, I am grateful.