I'll never forget the surprise and the powerful experiences that filled me at the end of our conversation!
In spite of his relatively young age (39), it was obvious that the man had been through some very serious experiences in his life. Or, at the very least he had been searching for such experience. He was on the top of the world, the European champion in a very tough sports competition. And even though he won a gold medal, and perhaps because of the great personal effort that he expended in reaching the pinnacle, he felt that most of the people who surrounded him could best be described as being in a "stupor."
He looked at me excitedly. "Most of the people are asleep," he said, and I could see that all his senses were fully primed. "When will they wake up? Usually it happens no more than five minutes before they die." It was almost as if he had dropped a bomb into the room. "And then... it's too late!" He said it decisively.
I gently prodded him. "What does that mean, in a stupor?"
"I am talking about a search for the answers to the most basic questions about life," he said in a simple way.
And then he spouted out a stream of questions which indeed sounded like things many people become aware of when they are nearing the end of their lives.
"What is the proper attitude to have towards your family – both your immediate family and the broader one?
How should we try to cope with our difficulties?
We know that life is not an easy experience...
How can we achieve happiness in our lives? ...
How can we build our lives in such a way that they will have infinite meaning?"
And then he went on: "What is the proper way to do a reckoning of the soul? Only among your people, the Jews, did I find entire books devoted to a reckoning which enhances a person and doesn't merely extinguish the forces that rage within him..." (This man really has a piercing insight, I said to myself.)
"How can we decide what is good and what is not good in our lives? What is really good for me, personally?" And here he really appeared to be agitated. Perhaps it was related to the war that his home country is going through right now. But then his question took a turn towards a broad view of the entire world. "And the main thing: What are the proper deeds that will improve the world as a whole, for the entire environment and not only for me personally?"
And after he surprised me with such a "serious" set of questions, he ended with the following punchline:
"People should be asking themselves all of these questions,
not just before their deaths, when it is too late, but each and every person
should be asking them all during his or her life. Otherwise, how will he or she know
the proper way to act?"
And do you know what really surprises me?" And here he sounded downright angry – "I found in your material, written by the Jews, answers to all of these questions. But then – why have you remained silent?
Where have you been for the last two thousand years?"
What a tragic approach! What a helpless feeling it leads to!
Where can mankind find a solution for this dire situation?
As a parting shot, my friend said to me: "You also have answers to all the questions that I asked you in the beginning of our talk. All through history, we from the other nations have been watching you with jealousy and admiration – for the family life which you established, for the ethical values which you proposed, and for your ability to control your own will through a feeling of joy and optimism, in spite of everything that you went through! Teach us all of this and more... Why are you keeping it all a secret?"
What a scolding it was! Perhaps this was a sign that the time has come for us to wake up!
Perhaps indeed the time has come for Israel to awake and go back to performing its main task. It could be that for this reason we have finally returned to our land, after a "tour" of foreign lands that occupied us for two thousand years. That is what popped into my head like a flash of lightning. And then, suddenly, I heard myself give him the following reply:
"The truth is that what is really important now is to understand that we are not alone, that we have somebody to talk to. There is hope!" And I immediately went on. "Not only do we have a tradition of what it was like to encounter the Creator of the Universe, who is external to mankind, but ever since we have returned to our land, and especially during the last twenty-five years, many people from around the world have contacted us and want to hear what we can teach them. There is hope for a better world, we have a golden opportunity."
And I left him with a question: "When will we meet again?"
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