I visit my 92 year old mother every day in her old age home, and every day I look around at the seniors there and ask myself the same question, why does G-d leave these old people to die without dignity? Every one of them needs either a diaper change, someone to feed them, wash them, or do everything for them. I have faith, but this thing really makes me angry. Why can't they die with dignity?
It is so hard to see a loved one fade after living a vibrant and active life. How we approach this painful stage will depend on our perspective. And the Jewish perspective on the end of life differs greatly to modern secular thinking. To approach life and death with faith, we need to make sure we have that perspective very clear.
It often happens that foreign, secular ideas creep into the minds of even those who have faith. Usually, the way these concepts infiltrate is via catch phrases and clichés. First they enter our vocabulary, then they become a part of our mentality.
One example is "dying with dignity."
That phrase is poison. It originates in the movement promoting euthanasia. This is a phrase that deserves to die.
True dignity comes from the soul, from living a life of goodness and holiness and meaning. Our body is a vehicle for that mission to be achieved. But the body is not our real self, and not our source of dignity.
At the end of a good and purposeful life, the body may be frail and weak, but the soul is as bright as ever, having accomplished its mission. If people have to do some unpleasant jobs to bring comfort to that body in its final years, it should be seen as an honour. There is no greater dignity than to serve another.
I am not belittling the pain of seeing a loved one suffer. And I am not saying that the body's deterioration is easy to face. I am saying that a person's dignity comes from their soul and their moral achievements. That is living with dignity.
We end our life in the same way we started it, dependent on the love of others. Your mother is blessed to spend her final days in good care, surrounded by those who love her. That is a most dignified departure from this world to the next.
How can a rational thinking person believe in G-d, when there is absolutely no evidence for his existence? Today we have x-ray, radar, satellites, infrared photography, ultrasound imaging, gamma-ray telescopes and CCTV, and yet we still have found no trace of G-d. If he is supposed to be everywhere, why is he nowhere to be seen? My logic says, if you are nowhere, you don't exist...
Being everywhere doesn't make you easy to find. On the contrary, logic says if you are everywhere, it's as if you're nowhere. A bit like our fridge.
As our family grew we needed more fridge space, so we bought an old fridge online. It was a bargain. We soon found out why. After we plugged it in it started humming quite loudly. At first we thought we couldn't live with this constant, monotonous buzz coming from the kitchen. But in a day or two we didn't even notice it anymore.
You can only hear a noise if that noise sometimes goes silent. But if it's always there, it's like its not there at all. Ask our kids what that buzzing noise is coming from the fridge, and they wouldn't even know what you are talking about. When you live with a noisy fridge, buzzing is silence.
It's the same with G-d. We live in a reality where the buzz of G-d is everywhere. There is no place devoid of Him, no moment when He is absent. So of course we can't detect Him. You can only detect the presence of something if you can detect its absence. The very definition of finding something is knowing where it is, but for that you have to know where it isn't. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, G-d is all and all is G-d. There is nowhere that he isn't. So we never see Him, because we are always looking right at Him.
This leads to an interesting conclusion. It's not that you can't see G-d. You actually can't miss Him. It just depends how you are looking. Put down your telescope and look at your life. You'll see He's been right there all along.
You may find it strange that I am writing to you, rabbi. You know I am not very involved in Jewish life. I am very spiritual, just not religious. But I am turning to you because you know my boyfriend very well. We've been so long together and he still won't commit. He says we are fine as we are and don't need to be married. Maybe you can give him a little nudge and explain that a relationship needs commitment to be real?
I would be glad to try and bring him around. You are a great couple and he would be a fool to lose you. But I must say, you can't blame him for not committing. You are doing the exact same thing as he is.
When he says, "I love you, but I don't want to marry you," it means he wants the benefits without the obligations. He likes the feeling of being in a relationship, but doesn't want the commitment that marriage demands.
It sounds great, which is why more and more people are choosing love without marriage. But what it really means is he is stuck in himself. He is looking at what he can gain from the relationship, but isn't willing to make himself vulnerable and put himself out for it. That's not love, that's convenience. I would tell him, If you really mean it when you say I love you, then commit. Do it for her.
That's my speech to your boyfriend. But I could give the same speech to you.
When you say you are spiritual but not religious, you sound exactly like him. You are open to spirituality, but not open to the discipline of religion. It's like saying to G-d, "I love You, but I am not ready to commit to You. I will do what feels good to me, but it has to be on my terms. My meditations, my fixing the world, my way. Just don't ask me to do things Your way."
It is sad that so many people miss out on the experience of committing to something higher than self. It is not limiting yourself to say yes to marriage, it is expanding yourself, because your life is not just about you anymore. You are making yourself vulnerable to someone else, and that is at once humbling and exhilarating.
And you aren't limiting yourself when you commit to observing divine commandments. You are opening yourself to the infinite, and going beyond your limits. It's not about feeling good about yourself, it's about doing good for others, no matter what you feel.
So here's the deal. I will talk to your boyfriend, and explain to him the beauty of a committed relationship. And you back me up as a living example of just that, by doing a mitzvah and committing to G-d. Maybe he will do it for you, if you will do it for Him.