When I was in college, I went skydiving over the plains of Texas. Three years later, wanting to relive that unique moment of transcendence and tested limits, I went skydiving again, this time over the Swiss Alps. Ten years later, I’ve learned to embrace a spiritual alternative to jumping out of planes.
The reason that most engage in adventure sports such as rock climbing, car racing, bungee jumping, and sky diving, I believe, is not so much the actual love for these activities, but the unmatched power they have to awaken an individual to the present. No one is worried about paying their taxes when falling out of a plane at a high velocity, nor is one considering their morning meeting when one false step could lead to a plunge over a mountain cliff. Some think this thrill is the way to give life meaning.
Contrary to this thrill seeking approach, we must embrace that we are already bursting with life potential at every moment. If we live more present to the spiritual realities of our world each day, we will find a meaningful life that is sustainable and empowering. Most of us are trapped in regret, guilt, and resentment over what is behind us, or in in anxiety, stress, and worry over what is yet to come. The most important life resource every human has been blessed with is the present.
Further, we cannot sacrifice the welfare of the needy today for the promise of a better tomorrow. To further communism, fifty million people were murdered to bring about a “better world.” Redemption starts today, not tomorrow, and the present can’t be neglected.
To be responsible for the now necessitates that we must ensure a healthy inner life. If we pollute our souls, it will spill over into global pollution. The most important first step to healing our world is to tend to our spiritual lives and to our deepest inner spaces. When we are morally focused and spiritually healthy, we can transcend ourselves for the other in their moment of need.
Perhaps the most profound statement that our forefathers give in the Torah on numerous occasions is Hineini (here I am), the most important spiritual response to any problem we encounter. No matter what comes up, we should strive to be present to that which is in front of us, and be appreciative of the moment, ready to take action.
This is not so easy; even Moshe, our greatest prophet, struggled with this. Ramban explains, “Moshe didn’t see the presence of G-d at the burning bush right away, because he hadn’t prepared his heart for prophesy” (Exodus 3:2). We must prepare ourselves for the radical possibility of the moment, or we will miss it. We have to wonder just how much we’re missing each day.
Rambam explains, even more strongly, that the greatest evils come from the spiritually blind, and if we don’t open our eyes in the world, intellectually and spiritually, that we will actually cause great harm to others. (Guide for the Perplexed, 3:11).
The great Jewish theologian Michael Fishbane explains the imperative of the moment beautifully:
Perhaps this: already with the opening of eyes, the hearing of ears, and the tactility of the body—already from such inadvertent moments the world imposes itself on us. It is always already there for me, just as I become there for it. There is no gap to be crossed (between the cognizing ego and the world): there is miraculously an immediate, primordial thereness of reality. Already from the first, and with every act of sensation, the world is “there” as a field of phenomenality, as a world of claims imposing themselves with an ever-present and evident presence. These claims put one under a primary obligation: one can respond or not respond; heal or destroy; attend or neglect; consume or build up. We have that choice (Sacred Attunement, 192).
We have that real choice to respond to the call of the moment or not to. The great sage Hillel famously teaches, “If not now, when?” There is no time like now to embrace life and its concomitant sacred opportunities and responsibilities. Hillel also suggests that Shabbat is not the sole time where we fine-tune our spiritual presence rather “Baruch Hashem yom yom” – spiritually is a daily endeavor (Beitzah 16).
In the 21st century, we have more distractions than ever preventing us from cultivating the spiritual art of focus to ensure we climb to the heights of our potential. The rabbis teach that one who pauses to flippantly enjoy nature while attempting to focus on higher spiritual matters “bears guilt upon their soul” (Pirke Avot 3:9). “Stopping to smell the roses” is not always the prescription for living spiritually present.
The theological model to emulate is the Shekhinah (the Divine Presence) as we strive to be totally in the moment and the halakhic model is called “mitzvot tzrichot kavannah” (commandments require presence and concentration). We emulate the Divine when we throw our full selves into our greatest life commitments (mitzvot).
I have come to learn over the last decade that to truly feel alive, we need not seek thrills like jumping from planes; rather, the most intensely meaningful life opportunities are constantly sitting right before our eyes. By tapping into the eternal timelessness of our inner life in the now, we have the potential to encounter two core attributes of G-d: the eternal and the infinite.
There is no time like now to start living in the now. It is all we have.
Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” is now available for pre-order on Amazon.