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JCF Blog

Answers are Elusive

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 9/16/2014

I was reading an article the other day which was quite interesting, but was primarily devoted to raising issues and questions and not providing answers.  After finishing the article I was complaining about its lack of answers to a colleague who had also read the article.  What she said made a deep impression on me – “answers are often elusive.”

Most of you are probably saying, yes, of course; isn’t that obvious (or alternatively arguing that there should be an answer for any problem if we think hard enough).  Perhaps, but the idea got me to thinking (and since the Days of Awe are rapidly approaching, it seemed a good time to be introspective).  Maybe we are not here in this life to actually find the answers, just to pursue them.

Perhaps (to paraphrase Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers) we are not required to have the answers to life, but neither are we free to abstain from pursuing them.

I am certain that there have been moments in most of our lives when answers seemed elusive.  Tragedies like Sandy Hook or 9/11; personal losses or professional setbacks; even moments of personal uncertainty.  We all face them and they remind us of our impermanence as well as the importance of how we use our limited time.  Is the true value of our lives in the pursuit – the pursuit of truth, of justice, of happiness – and not necessarily in the attainment? 

I spend much of my time thinking hard about how to make our community stronger; how to help people make a difference in life through their philanthropy.  At its heart, philanthropy is part of a personal search for answers.  At some point, we all wonder what our purpose is in life and since our time is finite, we look to make a difference now, to be remembered when we are gone, and to create a legacy of value for the generations that follow. 

Maybe William James had it right when he said “the greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”  Or perhaps Winston Churchill’s perspective was more accurate – “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  Certainly most philanthropists I know believe that their charitable work is part of their life’s purpose. 

What we do today matters and I believe that we have an obligation to those that follow to build a better world.  The answers on how to do that may be elusive, we may not always agree on the best course of action, and we will most certainly make mistakes.  Yet, I believe in the power of seeking the answers.  It is important for us as organizations as individuals.  Perhaps the final word comes from Deuteronomy which calls upon us to pursue (rather than obtain) our highest ideals - “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Our time on this earth is limited.  Choose this moment to give or volunteer for something that is important to you.  You don’t have to have the answers, but in the seeking you will grow as a person and our world and our Jewish community will be stronger for it.

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