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I don't review books I don't like!
*****= An all-time favorite
***Living a Life That Matters
by Harold S. Kushner
Reviewed September 16, 2001.
This book, written by a Rabbi, is about our sometimes conflicting desires to do what’s right and to do something significant. As I began it, I found it a mildly good book. He had an idea about Jacob’s wrestling with the angel that I had never heard before. He suggested that the angel represented Jacob’s conscience. So when Jacob lost, he became a better person, more ruled by his conscience.
Then came the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. I was vaguely disturbed at how so many people seemed to be able to talk of nothing but blasting the people who did this.
Then I came back to this book. As it happened, I was in the middle of a chapter on revenge. Suddenly, Rabbi Kushner’s words took on timely significance and seemed incredibly insightful.
First, he talks about how universal and instinctive the desire for revenge is. When someone does us wrong we feel powerless and vulnerable, and the desire for revenge is the desire to reassert our powerfulness. I think that fits this situation completely. The terrorists attacked the very symbols of our power.
He also talks about how the thirst for revenge can turn rotten inside our hearts, hurting only ourselves by its intensity, and festering if indulged. “The prospect of getting even is seldom worth what it does to us as people.”
He’s not talking about letting those who do wrong go free, simply about refusing to let what they have done hurt us further. He says, “That moment when the community as a whole claimed for itself the right and responsibility to punish criminals, taking the role away from the injured parties, represents one of the great advances in the history of civilization.” He doesn’t believe that the government should forgive wrongdoing, but that we should be able to trust them to carry out justice on our behalf.
So what happens when the wrong is against the state itself? He doesn’t cover this situation explicitly, although he does discuss national justice in the form of capital punishment. (I won’t tell you his conclusion, as it is not simplistic and comes after much discussion.) However, he did make me feel that we need to be careful that our next actions are not solely motivated by the desire for revenge. If America does take military action, I hope that our leaders will think deeply and deliberately about whether they are truly acting to restore justice, or simply because they want to restore our feeling of power.
If all the people responsible could be captured and sentenced to death in a court of law, would we be disappointed? If we feel that we just have to blow something up to get over this horror, then perhaps we are letting the thirst for revenge take too strong a hold over our hearts. In the words of Harold Kushner, “Life is too precious to be wasted on hatred.”
Review of another book by Harold Kushner:
How Good Do We Have To Be?
Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund. All