Harold Kushner gets down to the nitty-gritty of life. “We need to know that we matter to the world,” he points out flatly. “At the same time, we need to be assured that we are good people.” In this book, Kushner pushes us to fulfill these two basic human needs in one lifetime: to do well by doing good. He leads us through the thorny issues of self-realization, justice, personal integrity, and relationships in a quest to discover what really matters. And in the end, he shows us what it is to live from the heart -- to feel oriented, rich, and purposeful.
Kushner, rabbi laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, and bestselling author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, begins his quest by directing us to value struggle. By sharing with us the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, Kushner explains what we gain from our attempts at self-realization, in which we fight our own impulses and change our lives. “There are times when we feel that split inside us, part of us wanting to take the easy way out even as another part of us insists on the more demanding route.... It hurts to be defeated by conscience, to feel compelled to take the more demanding high road, to resist temptation, to apologize. But,” Kushner points out, “I suspect it hurts more to keep winning out over conscience.” What we must value, he insists, is not whether we make the right decisions, but whether we grow morally through the process. “When the struggle is over,” Kushner counsels, “we will, like Jacob, be bruised and limping. But...we will be at peace with ourselves in a way we never were before.”
Kushner goes on to revalue forgiveness. Drawing on the story of Joseph, along with contemporary books and films, he focuses, again, on what’s important. “When we thirst for revenge, it isn’t really revenge we are after,” he points out. “We are looking to reclaim a sense of power and dignity that was stolen from us.” Instead of seeking to punish, Kushner suggests, we can get what we need by behaving with the grace we wish others had. “Forgiveness,” Kushner points out, “is a favor we do ourselves.” Kushner goes on to apply his steady wisdom to the issues of personal integrity and interpersonal relationships -- and always, he reorients us to what’s truly important.
In this book, Kushner grapples with the central issues of our lives; his arguments are penetrating, and his advice gentle. Ultimately, he helps us to focus our lives not on winning the argument at hand but on becoming kinder, more forgiving, and steadier of heart. He helps us find out, quietly, what matters. (Jesse Gale)