May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17
I once saw a demonstration explaining the brevity of life and the infinity of eternity. The presenter used a long rope that seemed to go on and on. That rope represented eternity which has no end. The very tip of the rope was painted red. The tiny red part of the rope represented our lifetime. In contrast to the never-ending unpainted part of the rope, the red portion seemed practically inconsequential.
Indeed, looking at that visual display, it seemed utterly absurd that so many of us spend most of our time and energy on that tiny piece of rope and not nearly enough on the rest of the rope. Even more laughable is how upset we get when one speck of that red part doesn't go our way while we hardly worry about what will happen after the red slice of life.
Psalm 90 is another demonstration of our mortality. As the psalmist wrote in verse 4, from God's perspective, a thousand years is like just one day; our lifespan is even less. The message, like the rope demonstration, is to shift our focus from fleeting, petty, earthly matters to the eternal, important, spiritual aspects of life. To that end, the psalm, attributed to Moses, concludes: " . . . establish the work of our hands for us yes, establish the work of our hands."
What was Moses saying? Moses was praying that our actions on earth be those that truly matter and last forever. Everyone works and struggles at something in life. For one person, it could be getting the perfectly sculpted body. For another it might be working to end world hunger. For some, it might be both. However, only one of those goals is going to have eternal relevance. While we live in the physical world and it is necessary to take part in it, the question is: What is the focus of your life? Is it the work that will vanish when we are gone or is it the good works that will live on well after we leave this world?
I often think of how our Jewish sages describe death in two different ways. For the righteous, it's as easy as removing lint off a suit. The soul separates easily and happily for what it knows to be the true life. For others, it is compared to untangling wool from a thorn bush. A person who overly identifies with the body and the physical world will experience leaving it behind as difficult and painful.
I want to encourage us all to keep the right perspective on the transient nature of our lives. Remember, the only moments that last forever are the ones we use to serve God and to do good.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President