Sometime in the mid 1600s, the young philosopher Baruch Spinoza – recently excommunicated from the Jewish community for his “radical” ideas – wrote about what is fleeting vs. what is lasting. Here are his words (much excerpted):
Most things people think to be the highest good may be reduced to these three: wealth, honour, and sensual pleasure. [Evils such as] strife, sadness, envy, fear and hatred…will occur only when we put our love in things such as these that can perish. But what feeds the mind with a joy entirely exempt from sadness is love toward one eternal and infinite thing: the knowledge that the mind is one with the whole of Nature.(From the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, published posthumously)
Spinoza was an ultra-rationalist. He scorned any and all notions of supernaturalism. He rejected the idea that God can make miracles, or hear our prayers, or command us to act in certain ways. (That’s what got him excommunicated!) Yet Spinoza held a core belief in the unity of all things: he asserted that we, and everything around us, and everything that exists, are part of a larger whole. And that whole is called “God.”
Most of our lives we spend chasing things that are fleeting: fame, money, success, food – what Spinoza refers to as “wealth, honour, and sensual pleasure.” There’s nothing wrong with enjoying these things, but they do not last, and they do not bring lasting happiness. Maybe, then, what brings lasting happiness (at least according to a young thinker who lived almost four centuries ago), is to seek gratefulness for the vast unity that surrounds us. To know that God – in some form or another – is all around us, and inside us, and IS us. To expand the mind and seek greater understanding of this marvelous world. And to learn to treat all things and all people – including ourselves – like a part of the Divine.
Do Spinoza’s teachings speak to you?
What have you found to be grateful for on this Shabbat?