Don’t let the pursuit of a better life be an excuse for not living that better life right now.
In the Shema, we say, “You shall love God with all your heart, with all your life and with all your possessions.” This is a commandment to be willing to give up even our lives and our possessions in the pursuit of meaning. The Sages explain that for some people, their money is more valuable than their life, so the Torah needs to state both.
But why would the Torah think that a person might value money more than life? Surely if he is no longer alive, his money is not all that useful to him?
When looked at from a different perspective, there are actually plenty of people who are willing to give up their lives for their money. How many people do you know who are spending so much time making money that they have no time to actually “live”? They are making money in order to live – but then they don’t live.
I think the psychology is as follows:
Each one of us knows deep down that life itself is so gorgeous that all of its bothersome details just pale into insignificance. At the same time, so many of us feel that we are just not tapping into that goodness. We know there is so much more out there that we are just not experiencing, so much we are missing out on.
We Jews know that the only way to engage fully in life is by doing just that. Savor every bite of the orange you are eating. Focus intently on the warmth of the sun on your skin. See the goodness in those around you, and love them for it. Even savor the moment when you change your beautiful baby’s diaper. It’s all there to be enjoyed.
Life is rich, so rich, that even its most mundane aspects can be heavenly. But here’s the rub: the effort of enjoying life is often so great, that we would rather not bother. The effort of really focusing in order to fully experience a juicy orange is such a hassle that we’d rather just mindlessly go through the chewing motions while watching people bleed to death on TV.
Deep down we know we are missing out when we do that, so we have to find a way to convince ourselves that we really are trying to find fullness in life. How do we do it? There are many mechanisms, and chasing money is a particularly good one. Here’s the line of reasoning: Once I have enough money, I will be able to enjoy life in its fullest sense. I’m not selling myself short; I’m just building my largesse until I can really engage in life.
Quite obviously, this is not a means for engaging in life. It is merely a sophisticated excuse for not doing so. People don’t really value money more than life. It’s just so much more comfortable to chase money than it is to chase life.
The bottom line is that if you want to enjoy life, you have to take the effort to enjoy the “now” – not build toward some sort of wonderful future where all will be so much better. Life is rich for you now. Life is full for you now. Don’t let the pursuit of a better life be an excuse for not living that better life right at this moment.