Some thoughts as 2014 begins

“A human being, who has not a single hour for his own every day, is no human being.”

Rack of novelty glasses for New Year's Eve in New York City. (photo credit: Reuters)
Rack of novelty glasses for New Year's Eve in New York City.
(photo credit: Reuters)
We are lucky that we can live with two calendars. The first, our Jewish calendar, provides us with the numerous holidays we observe. Our calendar has directed us through the centuries and now we can live it in our own land of Israel. The other calendar, Gregorian or whatever name one chooses to use, is a worldwide system of counting years, of reminding us of tax responsibilities, of specifying the great moments in history and the tragic ones as well and offering Jews an opportunity to begin to count anew a second time each year.
As we enter 2014, here are a few thoughts we might want to carry with us.
The climax of any great event in our lives is also followed by the emptiness of the day after. Most of the time, we are hearty and hale, prepared to accomplish anything, and the next day, at the first sign of illness, we wonder whether we will ever be able to do anything again. This is true in business, in sports and almost every other field.
So what should we do – sit around and mope ? Or as one thinker asked, “push on to get the most out of the least and the best out of the worst?” C.P. Snow, novelist and scientist, once wrote, “If we can’t feel that all individual human beings, whatever they believe, whatever they look like, whatever economic system they are living under, are in essence like ourselves – then whatever we say, we don’t believe in individual human beings and we are headed straight for horrors.” Amending Shakespeare a bit, when we are cut, we bleed; when we are pinched, we react strongly; when we are hurt, we cry. Face it, we are all part of the “human race.”
Degas, the noted French artist, was once asked: what do you mix your colors with? His reply was to the point: “I mix them with my brains.” In blending the colors of life, we too must mix them “with brains.” Some days we experience bright joys and brilliant hopes; some days are gray when we suffer in sorrow and with great disappointments. How true it is that life painted with one color only can be dull, but a life that is multicolored is exciting.
In recent days we have been quite focused on the thermostat. However, if we have become ill, we also checked the thermometer closely. “The thermometer,” a noted physician said, “records and registers our personal temperature within and the atmosphere all about us. We watch the mercury adapting constantly and symbolically to keep up with the temperature of the times.”
A thermostat decides how many degrees, how high and low, shall be the temperature of our environment. A pertinent question evolves from this – are you a thermometer or a thermostat? In the new year ahead, do you want to conform or do you want to try to make changes? Do you want to be just a part of your society, the way it is, or, instead, shape it or form it yourself? The decision is in your hands – choose wisely.
“Are you seizing the day,” a great thinker once asked. Then he suggested how you may be missing out. “To see the sun and not bask in it; to feel the drops of a pleasant rain and not walk in it; to look at a painting and not really see it; to turn on the computer and not truly use the great treasures it has integrated into it; to start a good book, even if it is a ‘kindle,’ and not finish it; to be inspired by worthy efforts of others and not get personally involved.”
365 days of the next year of your existence begin now; not to make the most of our life, the only one we have, is sadly to waste it.
Renoir, a great French artist, suffered from terrible rheumatism in his hands in his later years. He could only paint by being placed in a chair and moved to the right spot as he directed.
When he placed the paint on the canvas, he suffered terribly and perspiration covered his brow. He would not stop ,and even with this physical condition, he continued to paint masterpieces. Once a disciple asked him, “ why torture yourself so?” Renoir smiled and said triumphantly, “the pain passes but the beauty remains.” This great painter understood so well that when we attempt to express our deepest feelings about the world we can become more than mere mortals. Someone has said, “the creation of beauty makes us feel noble and uplifted, and what is more it endures beyond any one lifetime.” We can all try to be like Shalom of Safed who began to paint, without any formal training, in his seventies. As he brought beauty to the world, we can do it as well.
Sometime in the distant past Rabbi Moshe Leib used a poignant insight to better understand the nature of human existence. “A human being, who has not a single hour for his own every day, is no human being.”
A contemporary rabbi explained this statement in the following manner – dealing with life as it is. “If a man works all day and then comes home only to be a father and a husband, when does he have time for himself? If a woman works, oversees the household, the children, other familial obligations, when can she have some private time – just to be herself?
 “If a teen-ager rushes off to school, does his homework, worries about what his friends think of him, takes on the latest fads, at what point will she or he begin to think as an individual instead of as part of a crowd?” Let us make sure that in this coming year we will have a sliver of time to think, to meditate in prayer, to wonder, to dream, to hope, yes to do anything we want – to raise ourselves to a higher plane. “Why build these cities glorious/If man unbuilded goes?/In vain we build the world, unless/The builder also grows.”
This is dedicated to my wife, Rita, on our fifty-first anniversary.