Off the Pulpit: Artists and Passengers

By RABBI DAVID WOLPE

The medieval poet Moses Ibn Ezra used the following simile: We are like passengers on a ship, believing we are stationary when in fact we are headed toward a destination. Similarly, we do not realize that as we believe our lives to be steady state, we move inexorably toward death.

Judaism is neither fixated on death nor in denial about it. We return from a funeral to food; the “meal of transition” affirms that however sad, mourners are alive, and the needs of the living must be addressed. Remembering the dead is a sacred obligation. Those who remember should themselves be celebrants of life.

Death is the frame within which the picture must be painted. It determines the limits but not the image. Being mindful of the limits makes possible the artistry of each stroke, the choice of color and the vision toward which one is working. We are artists and passengers, carrying within us sparks of eternity.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)

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