Rabbi Niles Goldstein: The Meaning of Life

Front“What does the Lord your God demand of you?” This is the question that Moses asks the people of Israel as they near the end of their journey in the wilderness of Sinai, and as they stand at the threshold of the Promised Land.

He is asking them an existential question about who they are and who they want to be.

Human beings yearn for many things: a life of meaning, a sense of purpose, the ability to be the best we can be. In the end, what we are really craving—even if it is hidden from our consciousness—is God. Unlike many other theologians of his time who tried to prove God’s existence using rational arguments, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430) claimed that the inner hunger all of us feel is, in truth, a desire to be united with our Creator. For him, it is the universality and constancy of human yearning that is proof of God’s reality. Our yearning is of an intensity and kind that no worldly possession or person could ever satisfy, and it would not have been implanted in us if it could be satiated in some other way. That way is God.

I have felt that hunger, and I have seen that way.

The “mission” of life is not to create a bridge between heaven and earth; it is to experience the presence of, and develop a relationship with, the Almighty.

The meaning of life is to strive for godliness.

I know firsthand that once a relationship with God is established, it will ebb and flow in intensity, depending on who we are and where we are in our lives. It will change in character. It will nourish us if we let it, and even when we are not available to hear the call—as I myself have been, largely absent and deaf since my rabbinic burnout after years in the field—it will be waiting for us and, when we’re ready, it will beckon once more.

In Psalm 63, David—who as king of Israel has all the power, riches, and lovers he could ask for—is still hungry. What he craves, however, is not more material sustenance, but God, with whom he has had a long but complicated relationship:

God, You are my God;
I search for You,
my soul thirsts for You,
my body yearns for You,
as a parched and thirsty land that has no water. (Ps. 63:2)

There is reason for hope. God desires to be united with David as well—and, if we view the flawed ruler as a metaphor for humanity, with each of us. Hosea, speaking for God, expresses this idea poetically:

And I will espouse you forever:
I will espouse you with righteousness and justice,
And with goodness and mercy,
And I will espouse you with faithfulness;
Then you shall be devoted to the Lord. (Hosea 2:21–22)

Why would God implant such a deep, at times disconcerting, hunger within our souls? To draw us nearer, perhaps, to bring us closer. God has given us both the appetite and the nourishment to satisfy our craving. Our hunger, our inner yearning to be with the Infinite One, can drive us to perfect ourselves, propel us to prepare for the encounter, even make us afraid. For fear takes us out of ourselves—to find ourselves.

What does the Lord your God demand of you? An open heart. And a brave soul.


>>>Excerpted from Eight Questions of Faith: Biblical Challenges That Guide and Ground Our Lives.


~Rabbi Niles Goldstein is excited to be the next spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom of Napa Valley. Rabbi Goldstein, an experienced and dynamic Reform rabbi and educator, is also the award-winning author or editor of ten books, including Gonzo Judaism and God at the Edge. He was the founding rabbi of The New Shul, an innovative and independent synagogue in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, which he served for over a decade. Prior to his arrival at CBS Napa, Rabbi Goldstein worked in a variety of congregational, interfaith and academic settings while based in his native Chicago.

Rabbi Goldstein has been a thought leader and sought-after speaker in the American Jewish community for many years, and he teaches widely on spirituality, personal growth, the environment, leadership, and congregational innovation. He has written for Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, the Forward and many other publications, and he has been featured in Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor and other venues, as well as on radio and television.

Rabbi Goldstein is the National Jewish Chaplain for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, a position he has held since his ordination. He is also a member of PEN, the Renaissance Institute and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Goldstein has served on the faculty of New York University, Loyola University, Eastern Mennonite University, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Rabbi Goldstein is an avid traveler and outdoor adventurer. He has mushed dogs in Alaska and ridden horses in Mongolia, and he has done humanitarian work with communities in Central Asia and the Caucasus. He is also a longtime practitioner of the martial arts, and he holds black belts in both karate and tae kwon do. Rabbi Goldstein enjoys the arts, particularly theatre and film, and he is always up for trying out a new or interesting restaurant. He is delighted to be living in Napa Valley and welcomes the opportunity to explore northern California as well as the rest of its beautiful environs.

Copyright © 2018 Excellence Reporter

Categories: Judaism, Ministry

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