Torah with Morrie #12: Making Meaningful Moments Last
How can we ever truly enjoy something when we know that all things will pass?
Ever encounter this rather depressing problem? Nothing ever lasts. We look forward to occasions and events, they come, we enjoy them, and then when they're over, we feel like they happened way too fast. Time moves quickly and we never can hold on to any experience, except in memories. Ask an older person how quickly life has flown by. And then when it's all over, when our memories of the past exceed our dreams for the future, we die.
Morrie Schwartz articulated a response to this problem:
"If you accept the fact that you can die at any time then you might not be as ambitious as you are? The things you spend so much time on -- all this work you do -- might not seem as important. You might have to make room for some more spiritual things." (Tuesdays with Morrie)
As has often been pointed out, no one ever lies on his death bed wishing he spent more time on the office.
But the problem is deeper than that. We may begin thinking: What is the point in my accomplishing anything if I know I can't hold on to it? Where's the pleasure and joy in such a life? How can we ever truly enjoy something when we know that all things will pass?
King Solomon was troubled with this dilemma:
"What benefit does man have from all his labor that he toils under the sun?... I hated life because I was depressed by all that happens under the sun; everything is futile and an aggravation of spirit. I hated all my achievements laboring under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who comes after me." (Ecclesiastes 1:3, 2:17-18)
Solomon describes these saddening feelings in great detail, until the penultimate verse where he provides a solution:
"The summation of the matter, when all has been considered, fear God and keep His commandments for that is all of man." (Ecclesiastes, 12:13)
How did Solomon address his monumental and existential quandary?
King Solomon is essentially saying that if we live our lives under the sun, if we focus only upon earthly and temporal pursuits, then life can indeed be disheartening, for time never stops and we can only leave our possessions and accomplishments to the men who come after us. But if we live our lives above the sun, if we transcend the earthliness of life and access spirituality, then our lives become timeless. We then make our meaningful moments last eternally.
How does this work?
We live within the passage of time. As we live, our moments are either temporally based, lived under the sun, or they are spiritually based, lived above the sun. Those moments which are temporally based indeed pass and are gone forever. But minutes which are spiritually based, with the fear of God and His commandments in our consciousness, as King Solomon described, are transported to an eternal place, to be experienced in their totality in the next world. There are no spiritual moments which die; they merely travel to the world of eternity and wait to be reunited with us in paradise.
When we perform a spiritual act, when we pray with feeling and concentration or we help someone with his packages, as examples, we may feel good about ourselves for a while but we don't nor can we enjoy the full expression and eternal power of what we accomplished. In the next world, we will experience just how special, meaningful and holy our actions were and we will enjoy this pleasure eternally.
Acts of physical pleasure can also become spiritual when we engage in them for the proper reasons. For example, if we enjoy our food with an appreciation of God, if we make blessings as we eat, these earthly actions become spiritual experiences. If we concentrate on our need to be healthy in order to serve God, as we lie in our beds trying to get some rest, sleeping itself becomes an otherworldly action. In this way, all of the material encounters life has to offer are transformed into holy acts. As Maimonides, all physical pleasures can be experienced for the sake of God:
"One's worldly pleasures should not be experienced with physical enjoyment as the goal; rather, the intent should be to serve God. . . even eating, drinking, walking, sitting, standing, conjugal relations, talking, and all physical needs should be done for the sake of Heaven." (Laws of Character, Chapter 3)
Life seen this way is one long path of attempting to create meaningful moments which really will last forever. The pleasures and experiences we have in this world revisit us in the next world but with their maximum powerful and spiritual effects.
This is how we make our meaningful moments last.