asher63 (asher63) wrote,

The Prisoner

At Yom Kippur services, the Rabbi told a story about a rabbi of his acquaintance who served as a prison chaplain. One day he went to visit a young man who sat dejected in his cell.

"I know what you're going to tell me," the young guy said to the rabbi. "You're going to tell me the same thing all the other chaplains have told me - you're going to tell me that G-d loves me."

The rabbi shrugged his shoulders. "How should I know? I haven't the faintest idea whether G-d loves you. But I know this: G-d NEEDS you - or G-d wouldn't have created you."

Our Rabbi then went on to tell the story of a young woman living in northwestern Alaska - by virtue of its time zone, one of the very last places on Earth to usher in the Sabbath. Every week she has the distinction of being, literally, one of the last Sabbath observers in the world!

Some days you're just filled with joy and the wonder of it all. Creation seems like a precious gift, and it's easy to enjoy being alive.

Then there are other kinds of days. Those are the days when living is a choice and an act of will. I am sure that Viktor Frankl had more than a few of those days. What helped him get through it was the realization that

Human beings are not only free, but most importantly they are free to something - namely, to achieve goals and purposes. The search for meaning is seen as the primary motivation of humans. When a person cannot realize his or her "Will to Meaning" in their lives they will experience an abysmal sensation of meaninglessness and emptiness.

Frankl cites the following example:

Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now how could I help him? What should I tell him? I refrained from telling him anything, but instead confronted him with a question, "What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?:" "Oh," he said, "for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!" Whereupon I replied, "You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her." He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left the office.

The first of the Ten Commandments is simply: "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." That's it. (In the Jewish tradition, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me ..." forms part of the Second Commandment.) This means that there is a moral force attached to the very knowledge and awareness itself - the responsibility to remember that we're here for a reason.

It's easy to get this backwards. It's tempting to think, when something good happens to us or when we are spared some misfortune, that "I must have done something good." Or else we are burdened by survivors' guilt - for example, when a buddy gets blown up on the battlefield, we might think, "It should have been me instead of him."

But that's wrong. The life we're given isn't a reward for something we did in the past - it's a pay advance that we have yet to earn. It's a responsibility.

Sometimes day-to-day life may feel like a prison. Our freedom lies in our willingness to dig down deep and find strength of purpose to go on.

Shabbat shalom.
Tags: hebraica, life

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