Nothing or Everything?

Rachel Petroff Kessler
February 12, 2013
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The Book of Ecclesiastes teaches:

“One generation goes, another comes, but the earth remains the same forever (1:4).”

I read deep into this: We are but a speck, a spot. Eternity precedes us and infinity follows us. We ground ourselves in this moment, knowing that our time is fleeting. We put our troubles, our egos, our challenges and triumphs into perspective, knowing what it is that really endures.

“But it isn’t true!” So says a group of parents studying this text before enjoying a Tu Bishvat seder with their 2nd graders. The earth does not remain the same, they rightly declare. It does not remain the same, and we are the ones who are changing it. Our power, to create and to destroy, leaves a lasting legacy that can impact the earth and all who come after us.

What came before us? Blessings, beautiful gifts, and bountiful harvests. We look behind and see our rich traditions, complicated histories, and a warm and inviting earth. But what is before us? What path will we walk? What legacy will we leave for our children and their children and theirs? What will they see when they look at what came before?

The Rabbis knew this to be true. For they expounded on Ecclesiastes, teaching:

When God created the first human beings, God led them around all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at My works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13).”

We are but a moment, with more before and after us than we could ever imagine. But we are also all that there is, this moment that we breathe also contains within it eternity, and in every moment we choose what lies ahead, what past we create for those in the future.

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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