A Life That Matters

By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
Published by the Omaha World Herald – January 5, 2012

I recently read in a moving news story about a 40-year-old teacher who has battled brain cancer for the past six years. Unfortunately, after several surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, he is losing the battle; he is now partially blind and has difficulty moving his left leg and hand.

In his final months of life, he has decided to travel the country to reconnect with former students to whom he taught English literature. He wants to know whether he made a difference in their lives. “I am at the end of my life,” he explained. I don’t know how much longer I have left, and I just wanted that sense of satisfaction that the time I did have I used well.”

Because of his memory loss, he is asking people to share their memories, to help refresh his own. Last August, he reached out to former students through the Internet. So far, he has visited about 50 of them in 12 cities, and if his health allows, he will continue on his journey. After reconnecting with these students, he has concluded that, “It seems like it was not a wasted life.”

This teacher has asked himself if he made a difference. Isn’t this the question many of us ask ourselves in the back of our minds? Perhaps what some of us are most afraid of is not dying, but insignificance — the fear that we will die and leave no mark on the world.

Are we going to spend our short time focused on trivialities and the ephemeral, or are we going to make a difference? We pray in the words of the Hebrew Bible (Psalms 119:37): “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in Your ways.” Many of us desire to live a life that matters, to feel that we’ve made a difference.

How do we live a meaningful life, a life that matters? What will matter is what we gave, what we shared, what we taught, what we built. What will matter is every act of love, compassion, justice, integrity, or courage. What will matter are the memories that live in those who know us. What will matter is living in accordance to God’s will. As the following illustrations of the Hebrew Bible teach (Psalms 34:12-14): “Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”

Each of us has the possibility to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Let us spend more time doing what really matters. Let us live a life that matters!

Posted in Articles, Newspaper Articles

Rabbi Levin is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Munster, IN. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, and is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly. In 2010, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City for his years of dedicated service to the Conservative movement and the Jewish community...Full bio