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"The goal is always infinity"

My friend and colleague Hyman Gabai, author of the excellent book, Judaism, Mathematics and the Hebrew Calendar, subscribes to this blog. The other day he wrote me to say, “When you discuss a question posed to Rabbi Steinsaltz, I usually try to answer the question before I read the Rabbi’s response.”

I enjoyed Hyman Gabai’s comment; I try to do the same thing.

So, here’s another one.

Rabbi Steinsaltz was asked:

“Are you satisfied with where you are now in your life?”

Rabbi Steinsaltz responded:

On a personal level, I am not very satisfied with where I am in my life.

To some extent, it is my personality never to be satisfied with any situation or achievement; whatever I have achieved in the past, there are always new horizons to conquer.

To put it metaphorically: in mountain climbing, the higher up you are, the wider and more distant the horizons become. As such, my achievements simply mean that the horizon is broadening, and therefore the distance to get there grows ever farther.

The whole notion of being satisfied is, in essence, a non-religious, or perhaps even anti-religious, attitude.

Our main goal as human beings is not to reach a certain position or situation; the goal is always infinity.

Therefore, the more you know and the more you grow, the more you realize that you are always at a distance, and you can never be satisfied because the distance always remains infinite.

If one decides that he has achieved something worthwhile, something he can remain with, it is an indication of some kind of failure or weakness of character, because the drive to go further and reach higher should always be there.

The struggle should never subside.

Life is an unending attempt to reach more, to achieve more, to get more. Our efforts come to an end when we die, but as long as we are alive, we cannot be satisfied.

We cannot remain in the same situation.

At times we are simply too weak or too frail to do very much about it, but the fact that we cannot do things does not mean that we are satisfied.

It is an unpleasant situation which is not a matter of our choosing, but is rather thrust upon us.

To quote a well-known Jewish saying from Ecclesiastes Rabbah: “One who has 100 wants 200; one who has 200 wants 400.”

The more you have, the more your dreams and ideas grow. And the gap continues to grow with time and with anything and everything that you achieve.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “On Faith: A Conversation about Religion with Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn” http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/