By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
Published by the Omaha World Herald – August 11, 2012
Several years ago, I read a newspaper interview with Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, in which he recalled his life and his films. In one passage of that article, he mentioned a story by Franz Kafka, –The Next Village — in which one of the characters described life as astonishingly short, and said, ““I can hardly understand how a young man can decide to ride to the next village without being afraid that even the time allotted to a normal, happy life is far too short for such a journey.””
Referencing this passage, Mastroianni remarked, “When I was young I thought that life was extremely long, eternal. But now, when I look backwards, I sometimes say: That film, when did we make it? Five years ago? No! Fifteen years ago! Fifteen years ago?”
The actor added, “As a young man you ride a horse to make that trip, you think it will have no end, that it will be very long. And then, when you reach a certain age, you realize that ‘the next village’ was not very far away, that it has really been a short trip, extremely short! Life! Yes, at a certain age we realize that it has passed like a breath. And the town is there, very near.”
Life is short, finite, and precious. We read in the Mishnah: “The day is short, the task is great, the workers indolent, the reward bountiful, and the Master insistent.”
We might interpret this phrase in this way: Life is short, and the task of self-improvement and accomplishing God’s ends is great. However, despite our good intentions, too often we don’t follow through, even though the inner satisfaction we would receive for our efforts would be enormous. And God expects us to keep trying.
We do not have an infinite number of tomorrows. The trip through life is short. It is too short to be squandered on trivial things, superficial pastimes and personal selfishness. But the trip may be long enough if we live meaningfully and purposefully, if we spend time with people important in our lives, if we dedicate ourselves to noble actions to help others and improve the world, and if we respond to the will of God.