Close
Log In using Email

What to Do to Live Happily Ever After

What to Do to Live Happily Ever After

Thoughts on Parashat Noah

Menachem Mirski 

The fear of the LORD prolongs life, While the years of the wicked will be shortened.

Proverbs 10:27

Immortality is an eternal human longing and its motif is interlaced throughout all religions and cultures of the world, including secular culture. We see this theme everywhere. Literature, art and film all adopt variants in different epochs to illustrate the fascination with immortality. The Renaissance concept of obtaining eternal life is through one's own artistic or intellectual works and the modern idea of extending human life is by using discoveries of science and medicine. The dream of immortality expressed in the contemporary era, as longevity, seems to be an inseparable extension of the human survival instinct and, at the same time, an expression of the boundless affirmation of life, an enthusiastic “YES” to human existence. According to Bereshit / Genesis and its story of creation, immortality, or at least longevity, was the original state of human existence, although this idea is not expressed explicitly in the Bible. All we know is that Adam and Eve were punished with death, or mortality, for their first sin - eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil - and from this fact we can infer that their previous state of existence was somewhat different. However, despite this punishment the biblical Adam enjoyed his life for 930 years (Genesis 5:5) and this was the typical life expectancy of all Adam's descendants (and presumably all other living people) until Noah, who according to the Bible lived 950 years. In the Torah portion for this week, we find the genealogy of Noah's descendants, from Noah’s son, Shem, to Terah, Abram’s father. After which the lives of each succeeding generation are shorter: Shem lived 600 years, his grandson Shelach 433 years, Shelach’s grandson, Peleg, lived 239 years, and the last descendant mentioned here, Terah who lived 205 years. All of this was decreed by God before the flood (Bereshit/Genesis 6:3.) It was, according to my interpretation of these biblical passages, a punishment for human wickedness and proclivity toward wrongdoing that was happening in spite of being endowed with divine qualities… and a warning directly from God! (Genesis 6:1-6). The traditional explanation of long lifespans is “lots to do and not enough people to do it.” There were not many people in the world and every person certainly arrived with a set of missions to fulfill. Therefore, at that time, people had large “all-encompassing” souls and therefore longer life spans in order to do the work assigned. In later generations, these big souls were spread out among thousands and millions of individuals, in the form of smaller souls with less work to do, and thus, shorter lifetimes in which to accomplish this work. However, I believe we need not understand these passages literally and we need not believe that all these people lived 200-900 years.  Here the Bible isn’t speaking to us in the language of facts. This content is probably aimed to motivate people to act morally. What is important here is the message: our lifespan is dependent on our moral conduct. This idea is expressed numerous times in the Bible:

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God gives thee. (Exodus 20:12)

We have an inversion of this commandment in the Book of Proverbs:

He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in utter darkness. (Proverbs 20:20)

In addition to the proverb quoted at the outset, another proverb expressing similar idea: The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through me your days will increase, And years be added to your life. (Proverbs 9:10-11) We also have a little naughty version of this wisdom in the Book of Kohelet:

Do not be overly wicked, and do not make yourself a fool. Why die when it is not your time? (Kohelet 7:17)

But we don't have to delve deeply into the Bible in order to find more passages with a similar message. It's enough to open our sidurim and recite the 2nd paragraph of our everyday prayer - Shema ve'Ahavta, where it states that all the commandments were given to you:

...That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:21)

In fact, the entire system of the Torah commandments serves not only a good and moral life, but also a life with meaning and in which every human action has meaning. All of this deepens the substance of our life and it provides a source of motivation to live and to fight the obstacles we encounter. But, that's not all: while we are at it, the Torah also teaches us to live in moderation. Because moderation can also extend our lives simply because lack of moderation can shorten it. The commandments also teach us to live carefully and prudently. They teach us to think before each action and to anticipate its effects. For example, by avoiding unnecessary risks and being careful not to make negatively emotional, ill-considered or hasty decisions we inevitably make decisions that are smart and considered, leading to a longer life. Therefore, by fulfilling the laws of the Torah together - living mindfully, pragmatically and with love towards others - we can together say an enthusiastic “YES” to human existence and fulfil the vision of the prophet: No more shall there be an infant or graybeard Who does not live out his days. He who dies at a hundred years Shall be reckoned a youth, And he who fails to reach a hundred Shall be reckoned accursed. (Isaiah 65:20) Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA

Thoughts on Parashat Vayera
Technology and Upbringing
Ki Tavo
Ki Teitzei
Shoftim
Barry Cohen’s Opening the Drawer: The Hidden Identities of Polish Jews – webinar
Ekev
Matot-Massei
Parashat Pinchas
Stargazer staring at Israel
The Roving Eye and the Wandering Heart
To Share the Sparks of Divine Wisdom
On “moral superiority”
Bemidbar
Behar-Bechukotai
Kedoshim tihiyu – You shall be holy!
To connect people with different visions of life
Parashat Beshalach
Ritual memory – the beauty of Judaism
Truth vs Peace
Miketz
VAYESHEV
Vayetze
Toldot
Chayei Sarah
Vayera
Fulfillment of God’s Promise is Accompanied by… Laughter
What to Do to Live Happily Ever After
SIMCHAT TORAH 5781
Transience as a Blessing
Nitzavim-Vayelech
Menachem Mirski 10 przykazań – część 3 wykład wideo
W bramach miesiąca ELUL wykład wideo
10 przykazań cz1 – wykład wideo
TRZY KSIĘGI OTWIERA SIĘ W ROSZ HA-SZANA – wykład wideo
EKEV
TU BE-AW -OD ŻAŁOBY DO MIŁOŚCI
Devarim
SMAK TORY
Pinchas
LUD TWÓJ LUD MÓJ A BÓG TWÓJ – BÓG MÓJ
Balak
KOBIETY W MYKWIE
Pride Month Sermon
OD TEMPLU DO BEITU -wykład wideo
BLISKI …WSZYSTKIM, KTÓRZY GO WZYWAJĄ
For Shavuot
Rozważania o święcie Szawuot
Bamidbar
Introduction to Jewish Law Rabin Alan Iser [ENG]
SŁOŃCE WSCHODZI I SŁOŃCE ZACHODZI – Kalendarz żydowski
EMOR
Acharei Mot
YOM HAZIKARON AND YOM HA’ATZMA’UT
TAJEMNICE KADISZU
Shemini
CO ŁĄCZY PIEŚŃ NAD PIEŚNIAMI ZE ŚWIĘTEM PESACH?
SHABBAT CHOL HAMO’ED
PUBLICZNA MODLITWA W TRUDNYM CZASIE
Vayikra
Terumah
Yitro
BESHALLACH
VAYECHI
Vayigash
CHANUKAH
Vayeshev
VAYESHEV
Vayera.
NOACH
Too Big, It Must Fail
CHOL HAMOED SUKOT
Haazinu
Ki Tetzei
Chazon
Matot-Massei
Pinchas
Pinchas
KORACH
Force of habit, passivity, fear and their consequences
The King and his Son. Thoughts on Parashat Naso
On Jewish Unity and Diversity. Thoughts on Parasha Bamidbar
Whom Can We Trust?
Has the Time Come For a Jubilee Year?
EMOR
Once Again About the Needy
PESSACH  2019
Ideological wars and social unrest: what can we do about them?
The World Between Order and Chaos
TZAV
Democracy and Responsibility. Thoughts on Parasha Vajikra.
What’s the Role of Religion?
TETZAVEH
What does the Tabernacle symbolize?
A Good Example Shows the Way
Chaos and hate – our outer and inner enemy
Freedom Once Gained Must Never Be Given Up
Parashat Vayera
One Person Can Change the History of the Entire World
Divine Actions Viewed as the Sum of Human Actions
Turning point. Thoughts on the parashat Miketz
Enslaved in Parental Lack of Attention and Brotherly Jealousy
Wrestling in the night
To lie or not to lie? Thoughts on Parashat Vayetze
Infertility – A Shared Problem
External and Internal Beauty.
Local Government vs Sodom
LECH LECHA
The meaning of life. Thoughts on parashat Lech Lecha.
Trying Our Best – Just Like Noah Did
Killing Anger. Thoughts on Parashat Bereshit.
An Ephemeral Booth or a Lasting Legacy? How Should We View Our Lives?
SUKKOT
Is Progress Actually Always Progress? Thoughts on Parashat Haazinu.
YOM KIPPUR 2018 JONAH
KOL NIDRE
Nabożeństwo Jom Kipur | Yom Kippur Prayer 2018
Standing Before the Heavenly Court
ROSH HASHANAH MORNING
EREV ROSH HASHANAH
To love is to see potential. Thoughts on Parashat Nitzavim
Time to be grateful [Ki Tavo]
Elul – the Month of Judgment
Good fortune and justice. Thoughts on Parashat Ree.
SHABBAT EKEV
Who will hear my Shma?
The role of women in traditional Judaism. Reflection on parashat Pinchas.
Thoughts on Parashat Bamidbar
What Kind of Society is “Without Blemish”?
Pesach: Matzah, Spring and Freedom
Vayakhel and Pekudei – Candles, Blessing, Shabbat!
Cindy Paley Poland Tour 2017
Concert Neal Brostoff&Marcin Król – Hebrew Melodies