By Tehilla Lichtenstein
Gold is a precious metal; it has great worth, both in itself and as a medium of exchange. It has endless durability, that which it is fashioned will last forever and a day. It is almost indestructible; even when thrust into a blazing furnace and brought to a molten state, it does not lose its character or value, and reverts almost immediately upon cooling to its natural state. It has a beautiful texture and color and patine, so that objects wrought with it have great aesthetic value, are pleasant to look upon. Above all, since the earliest eras of civilization, gold has had its supreme merit in the representational quality which we have given it. Gold has value in itself and particularly it stands for all the other material resources of this earth. If you but have enough gold, you can buy anything, anything your heart desires, that is purchasable with gold. Magnificent domiciles, palaces even, magnificent raiment, ermines and silks, abundance of nutriment, the exotic products of every realm are yours, if you have the gold to give for them in exchange. Gold, therefore, is a desirable and desired possession, and should bring happiness to its possessors. Yet the story of King Midas, who had that magic touch which turned all things to gold, is not a happy story, but a tale of starkest tragedy. He wanted gold above all things, and he got his great wish. Everything upon which he laid his hand became gold, so that he was finally surrounded by mountains of gold, and he became the most miserable of all creatures. He had too much gold.
I know of a man today, of enormous wealth, of such fabulous wealth, indeed, that everything that concerns him at once becomes front page news, who brought up his children in circumstances carefully simulating the conditions prevailing in families of average income. He and his wife, looking about at the wastrels and the wasted lives, the wealthy self-centered selfish type of life, dreary products of extreme wealth, were determined to give their children the advantages of those who were not rich. With great determination, they limited their sons’ allowances, gave them modest clothes, made them work part of their way through college, provided them with no luxuries above that available to the average student of modest means. And thus they saved their children from the destruction of character that too often accompanies children of unlimited wealth.
It is hard, indeed, to bring up children when you have too much money. You have to have character yourself to keep yourself from giving them more than is good for them, from catering to their every wish and whim, from making all goals instantly attainable to them so that they never know the joy and excitement and thrills of striving, of working hard for a goal, before finally attaining it. How carefully one must watch out that in their desire for joy, they do not substitute dissipation and an increasingly emptier search for hilarity and excitement. Those who had too much gold should realize the dangers of too much gold. They should know that it robs one of incentive, that it makes acquisition too easy, that it centers the mind and the powers on material interests alone, and therefore deprives us of our greatest experiences in life.
Yet gold itself still has its intrinsic and representational value. We must have it, in some measure, to meet the needs and the purposes of life. And we must, therefore, make it one of the goals of our striving. Because too much money is injurious, it does not mean that poverty is a blessing. Not enough money, not enough material comfort, not enough of the fundamental needs of life, is a great wrong, a great injustice, to ourselves or to our fellowmen, and it is one of the evils of civilization which will have to be abolished before we can actually attain a happy civilization. There can be happiness within poverty, greater indeed than great wealth can know, for those whose happiness lies in realm other than material satisfaction; those who have spiritual contents and goals in their lives, those who have intellectual or aesthetic awareness, who love books and love learning and love beauty, are not dependent upon riches for their happiness. And there is often in poverty, in the restraints and miseries of poverty, an incentive which drives many on to great achievement, to great deeds, to great attainments which would never have been theirs had they had all their material desires always and instantly granted; and thus the prick of poverty has brought about great technical and cultural advances of our civilization. But poverty in itself has not value; it is not good, it is not a happy and to be desired state; it is something not to be tolerated by the enlightened social conscience; it is bad, very bad, both for the individual and for society. It is a great wrong, under God’s heaven, that any breathing creature should not have enough to eat; nor enough raiment to cover his back, nor a proper roof to shelter him from the elements and give him warmth and comfort in the heart of his own family. Excessive poverty and excessive wealth are unhealthy states for man. Too little money, too little gold, is as bad as too much. There is a law, a divine law, operating in man’s life, which rejects extremism even of that which in itself has use and value. Let me adduce some further illustrations of this principle.
Work is one of the greatest human blessings. When you are working, using either your muscles or your brains, when you are expending energy in the expressing of abilities that are inherent to you, when you have spent a day in the real exercise of the faculties and powers, mental and physical powers, that are yours, you are really alive. You are experiencing one of the deepest and happiest parts of living. Rest, recreation, leisure, are, or should be, the rewards of hard work. You enjoy these primarily because you have worked, and after you have worked. The goal for which you are working, if attained, is also your reward, and is your contribution to the making of the world, is your service to mankind. And therefore, it can bring you much happiness, but the greatest happiness is not really in the attainment of the goal, as many know who have actually reached the very pinnacle towards which they have striven. The greatest happiness, the greatest satisfactions, the greatest joy, lie in the work itself.
Work is joy, work is happiness, work is the expression demanded by the inner powers which God gave you. And yet, we find people, men in business, and women, too, in the care of their homes, whose work breaks them down; wrecked their nerves and their health; depletes them physically and nervously. That which should give them joy and satisfaction only gives them deadly fatigue, and disables them from enjoying any other aspect of their lives. Why is that? Because they work too hard. The goal for which they are striving presses hard upon them, they lose sight of all else, and drive themselves toward it at the expense of all else. Perhaps they do achieve their goal – hard work is surely the chief instrument to a goal – but in the meantime they have lost the pleasures of the road, which are greater than those of the goal itself. By working too hard, by letting their ambition drive them too mercilessly, they have lost so many of the amenities of life – the time and strength for enjoying their families, for being with their friends, for pursuing hobbies, avocations, and interests outside their actually sphere of labor, for becoming part of communal efforts along with their fellow beings, even for enjoying plain leisure and hours of doing nothing, which is also an essential of well-balanced living. Above all, they have lost the joy of work itself, for overwork deprives one of that joy too. Health, amenities, spiritual strivings, social delights, all are sacrificed to the drive of one’s ambition and the overwork it exacts from its slaves.
A business man, who is whipping himself to a nervous exhaustion, was asked why he was working so hard? “I’ve got to work hard,” he replied, “because I want to amass a real fortune, and retire at an early age. I want some day to loaf and play and travel and have a lot of time for my family and my friends.” Meanwhile, he was depriving himself of friends, neglecting his family, giving up all outside interests, losing the ability to play and relax, rendering himself physically and nervously incapable for the halcyon life he was dreaming about. It is not necessary to retire early, there is nothing more stultifying to the individual than to stop early in life his usefulness to the world; on the contrary, keep yourself fit for hard work all your days, by not overworking yourself, by not sapping your strength, by not draining your energies, in the days of your greatest vigor. If you don’t play and rest and have fun and have many-sided interests and have friends along with your work, you will not have them after you retire from work. You will certainly not have the strength for them, if you deplete yourself not through overwork.
At the same time that overwork is noxious, laziness, indolence, incomplete use of your abilities and powers has an equally deleterious effect upon your system, affects destructively both your body and your soul. A butterfly existence, with no responsibilities and no duties, in which one’s mental or manual faculties are not sufficiently taxed, or a lazy existence in which responsibilities and duties are shirked, neglected, postponed, diminish the individual; they offer not stimulus, they slow down the blood stream, as well as all the bodily and intellectual processes, they take the zest and meaning out of life. You cannot enjoy play, if you play all the time, and you cannot enjoy your hours of leisure or vacation, if you have not utilized your legitimate working hours to their fullest. Too little work, like too much work, each in its own way, works havoc upon the system, and makes happiness impossible. The basic law of healthy living rejects the extremes even of that which in itself is good and essential. Too much even of that which in itself is good and essential. Too much work or too little work, too much play or too little play, are evil things in the effects they have upon our lives and bodily systems, although both work and play are essential to a well-balanced life.
This law operates in all the phases of our life, in all its major and minor aspects, in its vital and in its lesser expressions. Food, for still another example, is the fuel of the human mechanism; its
intake and transformation into life-sustaining blood is a basis of physical existence. So essential is it to the plan of creation that the world has been made a granary, and the earth overflows with the yearly renewal of God’s bounty, necessary for the sustenance of His creatures. A remarkable and phenomenal machinery of digestion has been built in our bodies for the assimilation and transmutation of the nutriment that we partake of, and a most sensitive part of the nervous system traverses man’s palate to give him the pleasurable sense of taste, so that through the enjoyment which he received from his food, he is impelled to seek food and give himself the time and effort that the partaking of food requires. Yet excessive indulgence in that pleasure, or insufficient partaking of this good that God prepared for us, repletion or hunger, both extremes, are injurious to the body, both extremes may break down the digestive machinery, both extremes may injure and even destroy the life processes in man. Too much and too little both go contrary to the divine law by which man can know healthy living. Too much or too little of anything, too much or too little comfort, too much or too little sociability, too much or too little study – I could, as you know, go on naming innumerable examples of good things, good activities, good experiences, which taken in their extremes, cease to be good and become evils in one’s life. You can deduce then as you no doubt have, that the basic law of healthful living is moderation; the golden means, the golden middle path, is the one that leads to happiness and health and success in life; it is the only path that leads to healthy living.
I must explain here that by healthy living, I mean not only bodily health, though that, of course, must be part of healthy living, but I mean also the proper and right experiencing of every aspect of life, of every aspect which our life was intended to include. Healthy living includes success in all the essentials of living. Healthy living does involve, first of all, success in retaining or achieving health of body and of mind, but healthy living involves also relationships of harmony and pleasantness and friendliness and affection, in varying degrees, with other human beings that come within the scope of our awareness. And healthy living involves also a measure of achievement, a measure of success, sufficient to give you a sense of self-worth, and sufficient to attain at least a dignified amount of livelihood for yourself and those dependent upon you. All these, not just one of these, are part of healthy living. Health, happy relationships with others, achievement and the earning of a livelihood when that is your responsibility, are, every one of them, essential for healthy living. If you are very successful at one of these elements of healthy living, and not at the others, you cannot claim full success in living, or fullness of life. If a man, for example, is at the very top of his profession, but has not been able to create harmony in his home, has not been able to win the respect and love of his children, or is constantly at sword’s point with his wife, he certainly is living a very unhealthy emotional life; he is certainly not a completely successful man. Nor is one successful, who has all else, but has not good physical health; or is emotionally or mentally perturbed, is unable to control or curb negative reactions to situations, crumbles at the least set back, is unable to stand disappointments, gives way weakly before obstacles, lets his spirit swoop into hopefulness or despair. Healthy living is the only real success in life, and it includes the attainment or retainment of all the good that God intended for us; health, happiness with others, and a measure of achievement in the world.
And to safeguard all these, along with the expression of our powers, along with the expression of our emotions, along with the expression of our energies, our physical and mental energies, we must apply the curb of moderation. We must be moderate, we must refrain from extremes, we must permit ourselves no excesses, we must be obedient to the law of moderation. Every excess is a vice, every excess defeats the purpose for which a virtue has been bestowed upon us. Every extreme renders useless or hurtful the powers that have been given to us.
To be obedient to the law of moderation, is to bring law and order and balance into your life. It is through law and order that God Himself creates and sustains creation; upon every object and being of His creation, He has imposed His laws, to which they are infallibly obedient. Tree and mountain, stream and star, earth and sky, are the incorporations of His law, they ride and unfold, they grow, they revolve and evolve, they breathe life, of their kind, through the scrupulous pursuance of His laws. They know the law that is in them, and they are sustained through their obedience to it. The animals of the woods and the field, also know unerringly what it is that they were divinely intended to do and unerringly they do it. They know what is their food and where to seek it; they know where their habitat must be and they will seek no other domicile; they know their hours of sleep and of awaking; and together all the little creatures of their kind close their eyes upon the dusk and open them upon the sunrise. There is a divine knowledge infused in all the inanimate and animate objects of creation, in the feathery dandelion as in the canny chipmunk, in the rushing stream as in the drop of rain. And having that knowledge, there is in them also the knowledge of obedience, which puts them in harmony with the Divine will, the divine intent for their good.
But to man, knowledge comes of his own hard seeking; he does not know the laws of his being, until he has come upon them through study and experience, through suffering and research, through error and its consequences. And when a law has been revealed to him, there is no compulsion laid upon him to obey. He may obey the laws of his being, and achieve happiness and health and success; or he may disobey them, he may infract them willfully or ignorantly, and he will know the consequences of pain and illness and failure in life. Why God has set man apart, and left it to him to discover the principles of life, and left it to him to abide by them or not as he pleases, is one of the mysteries that has beset man from his earliest steps in thinking, and which he has undoubtedly not yet fully solved; unless it is, perhaps, that God meant man to be the freest and most powerful of His creations, shaping and determining his own destiny, like a very God; giving him freedom of will and powers akin to Himself, and implanting in him the potential of achieving a divinity akin to Himself. But whatever the answer to this eternal mystery, it will be admitted by the least analytical, that the search for knowledge for which God has given man a mind of superb stop and depth, the discovery of the laws of life, and the application of these laws, gives to man’s life the greatest potential of happiness, of meaning, of purpose and of stature. Whatever the burdens and difficulties of man’s self-direction may be, it is only by self-direction that there is any consequent sense of attainment or victory. We would not exchange our destiny with that of a plant or a beast of the field, because we know that ours is a higher destiny, and it is higher by very reason of the fact that we must make it ourselves, we must of ourselves discover and put to fuse the laws of our life.
And man has discovered, through trial and error, through suffering and joy, through punishment and reward, through accident and through research, through analysis and through introspection, that moderation, which he must himself, of his own free will, institute in his life and actions, is the basic principle of healthy living. Moderation is the basic principle of healthy living.
For a healthy body, you must live in accordance with this law of moderation. Eat sufficiently to enable yourself to replenish the cells that your energy has broken down, to restore the bodily substance that your work has daily consumed; but do not surfeit yourself, for the sake of pleasing your palate, with an overload that your digestive machinery can little cope with and which will eventually cause it to break down. Sleep sufficiently; do not let irresponsibly late hours of amusement or of work, prevent your body from receiving the repose and recuperation which the night was meant to give it; rest, repose, is essential for the daily re-emergence of your strength, your spirits, your ambition. But do not lengthen the hours of sleep beyond reason, do not let them make you sodden and rob you of the hours of sunlight, through overindulgence in mere bodily sloth. Moderation is the law. Give yourself sunshine, in moderation, exercise, in moderation, do not let your muscles lose their ten side strength through inactivity, but do not think that because exercise is a good thing, any amount of it is good. Too much exertion will strain your heart beyond its capacity, and will more than nullify whatever good was first achieved.
Let me assure you that given good health to being with, you can retain this good health all the days of your life, if you follow all the days of your life the law of moderation in your way of living. If your health has been impaired through abuse of that law, one of the first steps in the regimen that will restore you to health is moderation.
For healthy relations with others – the basic source of happiness in your life – let moderation rule your emotions and the expression of your emotions. It is through our feelings that we sense other beings, it is through our emotions that they acquire residence in our hearts and consciousness. The deeper and more warm and more delicate our emotions, the stronger, the nobler, the finer is the bond between us; but depth and warmth and delicacy does not mean excess or exaggeration or the throwing out of all inhibition in our relations with them. Some of us, who are master of our emotions in the presence of acquaintances or comparative strangers, throw all control to the winds when our dearest and closest ones are involved; we give wild play to all the feelings that course through us; if we are angry at them, we hit out; if we are anxious, we overwhelm them with our anxiety, we let even our love for them find unhealthy expression in over-trembling for their safety, over-coddling sometimes, in fear, worry, over solicitousness; we take away their security and independence, their self-reliance, their sturdiness, through our over-
weening emotions. Along with life, there must be serenity; along with solicitude, there must be trust; along with the happy familiarity of family life, there must be control of all negative emotion, and balance in the expression even of love, lest even love deprive our loved ones of their self-direction, and thereby become an irksome or burdensome thing. Serenity, temperance, control, are the expressions of moderation in our emotional relations with other beings; it is the achievement of a healthy emotional life.
And, finally, as we have earlier indicated, it is essential that you achieve a sense of promotion, a sense of moderation, in your material strivings. Success, and nothing else, is not a healthy attainment; even great achievement, through the sacrifice of all other values, may thwart you in the end. Van Gogh created great art and thereby great joy for the world; but he himself was the most wretched of men, for he had no knowledge of the art of living, and finally had to flee from the normal demands of life and of men, which he was unable to meet, in the useless hope of finding peace; and many a man in the world of business, who has sold himself completely to business success, has found that the intensity of his absorption in business, has robbed him of the capacity for the enjoyment of any other phase of living. Friends, family, books, people, ideas, ideals, all have finally lost their meaning for him. On the other hand, we have heard of the great engineering genius Steinmetz who, all alone in the world, protected himself against the one-sidedness of great success, by adopting a whole family, a young man and his wife and their children, making them his very own, lavishing his love upon them so that work, alone, success alone, should not be his whole reason for living.
Healthy living means health of body and mind; it means healthy emotional reactions it means healthy human relations; it means achievement and success without the sacrifice of the other blessings with which a happy life should be endowed; and for his healthy living, this complete experience of the good life, the basic principle is moderation.
Copyright – Society of Jewish Science