Wednesday, May 6, 2009


A common metaphor by which the world is understood is that of a cup that is half- full. There are those who are inclined to see the cup as half full-the optimists, those who are grateful, and those who are focused on the cup as being half empty, the pessimists, the ones for whom gratitude is elusive. I wish to suggest that both views are incorrect.
In fact the cup of life is not divided by a ratio of one- half to one- half. The truth is, most of life is positive and full. With exceptions ,of course, most people’s lives are more than tolerable; there is less pain than over-all satisfaction, less illness than health, less abject poverty than some minimal level of subsistence and survival. The cup of life is indeed closer to three-quarters full and one quarter empty!
But, because of the human tendency to see things negatively-“the negativity bias”- we experience at most, only half of our lives as “full.” Well before Freud and T.S.Eliot, sophisticated thinkers were disposed to describe the human condition as one of “quiet desperation.”
A melancholic streak ran through the philosophy of so many people regarded as wise and insightful.
Fully conscious of this attitude, one which I confess I share, I nonetheless have grown to believe that Judaism, and spirituality in general, hold out to us the possibility of grasping life as a gift which is pregnant with goodness and awaits our engagement so as to bring this potential joy and fulfillment to ever greater fruition. I believe that the purpose of the ‘mitzvah’-the sacred deed-is to transform the ordinary into the wonder-ful, to elicit from the mundane the miraculous, to elevate the profane into the sacred. One can discover divinity in all things, and as such, the ‘empty’ part of the cup is the husk, the outer shell, the minor dimension of life, while the essence, the sacred kernel, represents the major part; thus the totality of all of existence can be viewed as mostly a reality of fullness.

Disasters, wars, famines, floods, illness, are all tragedies that are part and parcel of the totality of the human experience. But they occur, thankfully, only intermittently. Otherwise , life could not be sustained nor could we enjoy survival and continuity.
Without question, there is too much sorrow and suffering in the world. We are duty bound to do everything we can to alleviate that pain. Perhaps the prism of gratefulness can allow us to see more clearly a path to greater fullness for all, so that the cup of life’s bounty can be shared by all.

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