Unique among the world’s major religions, Judaism does not believe that you need to follow its practices to gain God’s favor. Every non-Jew is entitled to the same eternal reward as their Jewish neighbors and no person is born a sinner or requiring redemption. This is why Judaism does not prosthelytize and, indeed, discourages conversion. It’s not that we don’t want you in the club; it’s just that it’s not necessary for your soul’s salvation. It’s also why we don’t enforce our laws through threats or guilt. These are powerful tools in the battle for the souls of the masses, but there is a cost.
In the last year, 5 new people in my life have had a profound impact. I cannot say that I truly know their essence, but each evokes strong feelings. One is struggling with advanced cancer, but is more alive than anyone I know. One died at a young age, leaving behind a 3 year old son. One stole a lot of money from me and, emboldened by my silence, took a few cheap shots on the way out. One is trapped in a loveless marriage, and is, without question, headed for a public disaster. And, one is in a loving marriage but is trapped just the same. More on that in a moment.
Another (Jewish) year is over but I don’t really feel any different than I did last year. Not much has changed. Work is the same. Kids? Same. Wife? Ditto. The Yankees are back in the playoffs. Guantanamo Bay is still open for business. Palestine is still not a State. Justin Bieber has still not written back. It’s weird; the older you get the less things change. And, the more you appreciate the stability. And, yet, for many men, stagnation is death. We appreciate even the lamest adventure. A Saturday night beer at the moose lodge fuels a week’s worth of excited e-mail bravado. Some look too far for distraction. Some suppress the drive and their families suffer the consequences. The measure for most is, not coincidently, their appetite for threats and capacity for guilt.
But, I do not stand in judgment of any person. That’s God’s job and he has his hands full. Personally, I derive satisfaction from the infrequent lessons I learn from the people I come across. I lost a great friend this year. Nothing happened. We just stopped talking. Also, I can’t stand his wife. I found a great friend this year. Might end up my best friend ever. I lost a good client to greed and ethical indifference. But, I found many more along the way.
And, I met five people who, in their own way, changed my life – – or at least the way I think about my life. That’s plenty. And, for better or for worse, each lesson learned (or ignored) is an adventure. It gives me hope and no small sense of anticipation for what the New Year might have in store for me and the people I care about. A little adventure, a lot of stability, and a pinch of learning a little more about myself. I can’t wait.
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