In World Religions and now this class I have been fortunate enough to read several books by Harold Kushner. I appreciate being exposed to Harold Kushner because I have learned a lot about myself through these books. He writes easy to well books with clear intentional writing. I never feel as though I do not understand what he is trying to tell me. This book is about overcoming disappointments. There are a few high points to highlight throughout the book. Kushner used examples from Moses to talk about how to cope with our frustrations. Initially, I did not understand how Moses was the example he used but as I read and reflected on the many stories of Moses, it became clear to me. Yet again Kushner has given me something I can use in my life.
The lesson I wanted to lead with is not to expect requited actions. This is something I know and understand but I struggle with daily. The idea that if I do the right thing people will do the right thing in return. Given the current pandemic, we have learned no matter if you social distance, Lysol everything, wear a mask, and stay safe at home, everyone around you may not. Kushner said, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are an honest person is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian.” At the time I read this, I needed to be reminded of these words. Kushner explains to us that life would not be fair and even more so that being an honest person won’t change what life throws at you. I often find myself being upset in public settings, especially the grocery store or airport when someone enters my personal space in some way without acknowledging they have. I always want a polite excuse me, yet it rarely happens but I need to remember that just because I have manners and am polite does not mean everyone else will be as well. Moses dealt with this quite often. This is a valuable life lesson.
Kushner spends an entire chapter talking about keep promises. He ends the second paragraph in this chapter by saying “All around him, people are trying to stuff as much into their luggage as they can, and Moses is busy keeping a promise. Moses shows his greatness at that moment by choosing to keep a promise rather than enrich himself.” This was an amazing way to start this chapter and a perfect story about keeping promises as he collected the bones of Joseph keeping the promise to take his bones to the promised land. Kushner talks about how we will hit a crossroads in our life at some point where we must decide whether to keep a promise or to break it for some personal gain. We could be breaking promises we made to others or even ourselves. “Keeping one’s promise is the cornerstone of responsibility, and I have long considered responsible for one’s behavior to be the defining characteristic of a mature human being.” Keeping your promise is bigger than simply doing what you said but shows you to be mature and responsible. It is our responsibility as humans for the sake of humanity to keep our promises to preserve people’s concept of trust and being able to trust. As he explains this is important not just for us as individuals but politicians, businessmen, and those of us in relationships. In this chapter Kushner shows us that a major piece to the fabric of society is keeping ones promise. That when people stop, we began to lose truth in others and once we have lost trust in others society will fail.
Kushner speaks of us as not being perfect yet having five elements of a complete life. Kushner says, “Five elements to a complete life: family, friends, faith, work and the satisfaction of making a difference.” Thriving in these five areas can create a complete life but at the same time can we truly dedicate our lives to all five. It was not possible for Moses or even Albert Einstein. Moses took on one of the greatest tasks in the Bible as being the messenger of God but what about his wife, what about his kids. How could Moses truly devote his life to God’s will yet thrive in family and friends? Kushner speaks of a lesson we can learn from Moses, “We can learn to avoid the mistake that even good people will too often make, neglecting the basic needs of our souls and asking our families to sacrifice their own well-being while we set off to change the world.” In keeping our promises, we must consider our priorities in our lives so that we are not making promises we cannot keep but also not neglecting other areas of these five elements. Though Moses did so much good, he too made mistakes. I think this chapter is important as it reminds of that despite Moses being such a hero that he was human like you and me. It reminds us that Moses made the same mistakes we make but it does not take away from him being a good person yet, there is a lesson that we must take heed of.
This leads to another lesson from Kushner. We must understand our priorities. Although we know Moses was a husband and had a family, his priority was different. Moses knew his priority would be being the messenger of God. Additionally, a few other quotes from Kushner helped drive in his point that we can overcome life’s disappointments. It is important to keep our promises, “As Moses understood something inside us breaks – something that sustains our world breaks – when we break a promise, and something vital and indispensable is preserved when we are strong enough and good enough to keep our word.” Until I read this book, I did not see keeping my promises as strength but when it is weighed against personal gain, it takes the strongest of people to choose to keep their promises. Because the world does not bend to meet our needs and the sooner, we understand that the better we will be as individuals and as a society.
Honestly, reading this book was right on time for me as I am struggling with what seems like insanity. Knowing that I am choosing to do the right thing during our current pandemic, yet no one else seems to be. Here I was thinking I was going crazy and this book helped me understand that I should continue to do the right thing and not expect from the world and continue to focus on those five elements.