In this earthly world, you never arrive.
“I have walked that long road to freedom”, writes our beloved Madiba in his famous autobiography. “I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” On the cusp of 2013, we can take “a moment to rest” and consider “the glorious vista” and “to look back on the distance” we have come, and to realise that “there are many more hills to climb”. Judaism teaches that a new year is a time of repentance and improvement.
Angels, says the Talmud, are “the standing” ones, and human beings “the walking” ones. Static and standing still in absolute perfection, angels are perfect spiritual beings who do not have free choice, and inhabit the pure, pristine heavenly worlds, where there is no suffering or injustice. Angels can do wrong, but therefore can do no right, because they are frozen in an eternal unchanging status quo with no freedom to make real moral choices. We, “the walking” ones, freely choose between good and evil, live in a turbulent, earthly world, filled with so much joy and wonder, and yet so much pain and suffering.
We have the G-d-given power to change and improve, and also to sin and stumble, and so live dynamically with victories and defeats, with regressions and progress. Stumbling and even falling is part of the journey. Every worthwhile endeavour of life is fraught with challenge and obstacles. “For the righteous one falls seven times and arises”, says the Book of Proverbs (24:16). One of the Biblical commentators explains the verse to mean that the righteous do not arise despite falling, but rather through falling and overcoming defeat, they become great. Provided we strive to move forward on our journey every misstep becomes part of achieving our Divine purpose on earth.
South Africa is a “walking’ nation. We are young and new, only born free eighteen years ago. Our ‘long walk to freedom’ continues each year, as we take new steps, some small and some large, some forwards and some backwards, but moving all the time. We achieve great victories and suffer bitter defeats as we walk to freedom, which is not a static destination, but rather a dynamic ever-evolving journey. So often pessimists look at our failings and problems, and condemn us as beyond redemption. They don’t understand we are walking to our freedom. We haven’t arrived because in this earthly world you never arrive. Human beings are “the walking” ones, and we were placed by G-d in this physical universe to go on a dynamic, ever-evolving journey of spiritual and moral growth, of national and personal development.
This philosophy goes to the heart of every aspect of our lives in this earthly world. Creating loving and strong families is also a “walking” journey. Marriage is not a destination, where the couple are in a state of “standing” in perfect bliss which lasts unchanging forever as it was on the wedding day. It is a “walking” relationship – dynamic, changing, developing and deepening. In great marriages, husband and wife invest constant energy, passion, and thought to nurture and grow the love between them. They realise that on that journey they will make mistakes and stumble, but they are committed to marching forward and becoming stronger and more loving as the years pass. Parenting is also not a destination but rather a “walking” dynamic enterprise, as children are raised, educated and given the moral, spiritual, emotional and physical tools for life. It is a calling that never ends, and requires commitment and dedication through all its stages.
This philosophy of “walking” through life can guide everything we do. Earning a living as a conscientious employee or building a great business is a journey of effort and integrity, of hard work and ethics. Doing good deeds is a journey of compassion and care, of sensitivity and kindness. Spirituality is a journey of connecting to G-d through prayer and good deeds in a dynamic way, in which our faith and devotion deepens all the time. Happiness and emotional well-being are not elusive destinations that we seek to arrive at, but rather are a “walking” journey of living with meaning and self-knowledge, of giving to others and self-transcendence. In 2013, may G-d bless all of our life journeys, national and personal, with many strides forward on our “long walk to freedom”.