Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Sidney Greenberg

American Rabbi and Author

"Every day we shall see about us evidence of human pettiness, greed, self-centeredness. But if we observe carefully we also see human nobility, generosity, self-surrender and genuine religious conviction and action. The cynic remember sonly man?s faults ? that is why he remains a cynic. The wise man remembers his brother?s virtues. Which shall we choose to remember?"

"Every one of us is endowed at birth with all sorts of magnificent possibilities and potentialities. There is a capacity for idealism, a yearning for truth and beauty and nobility, a sensitivity to the hurt of others and to the dreams and needs of our fellow man. In the hopeful dawn of youth we feel these stirrings within us and we promise to bring them to life. And yet so often as the years pass by we permit these promises to be swept under the rug of expediency. We chalk them up to immaturity and we go on to live ?more realistically.?"

"Faith in God cannot be an obtrusive idea quietly asleep in the dormitory of our mind. It has to be acted out in the arena of everyday life. Faith in God is not merely an idea the mind possesses; it is an idea that possesses the mind. Faith in God is demonstrated not in diction but in action; not in our creeds but in our deeds. What we believe is illustrated in how we behave."

"Fate is what we are given. Destiny is what we make of what is given to us. We cannot choose our fate but we can shape our destiny. And in that choice lies all the difference? We are not only shaped by our environment; we shape it. We are not only the creatures of circumstance; we are also the creators of circumstance."

"For everything there is a time? We do not choose to be born; we do not choose the time to die. But we can choose our way of life. We are fully born when we choose to live nobly. We cannot hope to avoid death, but we can invest a part of ourselves in the things that never die, and thus live on beyond our mortal span?We harvest what has been planted before us. The harvest of a life sustains and nourishes those who survive? In the presence of death we are reminded that now is the time to break down the walls of estrangement that separate brother from brother, parents from children, husbands from wives, each of us from God. This is the time to build up the bonds of caring that draw us closer to one another in tenderness and in love? We weep also for the days we have wasted, for the thanks we did not offer, for the tears we did not wipe away, for the gifts we did not use, for the good we left undone. Let us laugh with the hope that sorrow will teach us to do better and live more wisely in the days ahead? Death reminds us that it is always time to seek the good in each other for each other. It urges us also to lose the pettiness and callousness that diminish our stature and shrink our horizons? This is the time to keep in treasured possession our faith in the God who heals the broken hearted and bind up their wounds. This is also the time to try to cast away the bitterness, resentment and anger death leaves in its wake? Now is the time for the mourners to fight against despair and hopelessness. May they do so in the stubborn hope that the time will surely come when they will again know serenity of spirit and inner peace."

"God is in the power of the human spirit to rise above tragedy, to go on after sorrow, and even to transmute suffering into song and pain into poetry. Got is in the great gift of memory that enables us to keep our loved ones alive and to take them with us as we journey in faith toward a beckoning brighter tomorrow."

"Happiness cannot be overtaken by those who pursue her. Happiness is a by-product of cheerful, honest labor dedicated to a worthwhile task? We cannot have happiness unless we give of ourselves? If it is true that we cannot get happiness unless we give it, it is also true tha twe cannot give it without getting it. Happiness has correctly been compared to a perfume. You cannot pour it on others without getting a few drops on yourself."

"He had been living for decades with a woman whose heart hungered and ached for a word of appreciation ? a word which this prolific writer of words had never been kind enough to utter. Did he not rob her by failing to give her what she so much needed to have?"

"Help us to convert our convictions into conduct and commitment. Help us to narrow the gap between our principles and our practices, between our aspirations and our actions."

"Here is where the Divine playwright enters. God is the true Hero of the Exodus. For it is God who enables a stammering, tongue-tied Moses to be the vehicle for the greatest words ever uttered by a human being. It is God who takes an inflated tyrant and cuts him down to size. It is God who converts an oppressed, downtrodden horde of slaves into 'a kingdom of priests and a holy people.' Every year at Pesach time the descendants of those ex-slaves retell and reenact this ancient drama, making it the longest running play in history."

"How do I go on? The only honest answer is, ?I don?t know how to go on but I do know that others have gone on and you are probably as wise, as brave, and as strong as they.?"

"How does time become holy? It becomes holy when a part of it is given to others, when we share and care and listen. Time is sanctified when we use it ? to forgive and ask forgiveness; to remember things too long forgotten and to forget things too long remembered; to reclaim sacred things too casually abandoned and to abandon shabby things too highly cherished; to remember that life?s most crucial question is ? how are we using time?"

"How many lives have suffered a progressive deterioration of motive, a gradual contraction of purpose and shrinking of the horizons?"

"IF reduces life to a question mark. God punctuates life with an exclamation point. IF makes us helpless bystanders. God makes us intelligent co-workers. IF leads us to despair, God whispers courage."

"If we are to face the advancing years with serenity and hope we must realize that God has arranged human life on an ascending scale and that every age has it own unique satisfactions and joys, just like every hour of the day has its own charm and loveliness."

"If we are wise, however, we will accept sorrow courageously now that it has forced its way into our lives. Despite its forbidding countenance, sorrow possesses great potential power to expand our lives, to enlarge our vision and to deepen our understanding. It has played a beautiful and transforming role in the lives of countless bereaved who could say in a mood of melancholy gratefulness with Wordsworth: ?A deep distress hath humanized my soul.?"

"It is a great privilege to be human. It is a great challenge to be human. If we believe in the power of man to grow, to repent, to improve, to reach beyond himself and into the lives of others, it is because we are not machines but children of God. Man is not, as one modern writer declared, ?a small but boisterous bit of organic scum that for the time being coats part of the surface of one small planet.? Man is the bearer of the ?Tzelim Elohim, the divine image.?"

"It is exciting to be alive in a time of change. All sorts of wondrous possibilities lie before us. But it is also bewildering to be living in a time of revolutionary change. Familiar landmarks are obliterated and with them there is lost, too, a sense of orientation. What happens to the old standards of decency? Are they now outmoded? What happens to the ancient teachings about honesty, morality, and human responsibility? Have they become archaic? What value do the old signposts have if people now fly at thirty thousand feet above the roads?"

"It was and it is to do all that can be done to eradicate an evil thing out of our civilization? a thing so incredibly wicked that it would not have been believable of modern man if it had not actually occurred. This evil, this wickedness began with intolerance and hate in a few men?s hearts. It spread until it almost wrecked the world. Now the obligation is to remember, not in hate, not in the spirit of revenge, but so that this spirit cannot ever flourish again so long as man remains on earth. And to this end, let us begin, each of us, by looking into our own hearts."

"Life is a journey, not a destination, and happiness is not ?there? but here; not tomorrow, but today."

"Life would become drab indeed and quite insipid to our taste if the years of our lives were not kissed each with its own charms and capacities, each with its unique colors and shadings. Life?s beauty comes precisely from the changing configurations and patterns of the years, from God?s great mercy in constantly closing and opening doors for us."

"Life?s most sacred dialogue, the human soul in communion with its God."

"Materio-Sclerosis ? an insatiable hunger for the acquisition of things, more things, more expensive things!"

"One of life?s unavoidable coercions is the obligation to spend our entire lives with ourselves. We are our own inescapable neighbors. It is therefore an act of elementary wisdom to develop kindly feelings for that neighbor. You shall love your neighbor who is yourself."

"One of the real perils of growing older is that we tend to think less and less. We feel that we know all the answers? The mind and the soul become wrinkled. The function of prayer is not to enable us to acquire what we should like to possess, but rather to become what we are capable of being."

"Spiritual income from Judaism: (1) A sense of life?s worthwhileness and high potential worth. (2) A feeling of personal dignity as a creature of the Divine. (3) An awareness of belonging to a proud people and participating in a significant adventure. (4) A high ethical sensitivity which restrains and directs. (5) A round of holidays and a system of ritual which raise existence into living and redeem life from monotony and drabness."

"The challenge of life is to go on despite pain, to paint, as Renoir did with the fingers crippled by arthritis and to say as he did: ?The pain passes, the beauty remains.? The challenge of life is to be alive to its beauty, its joy, its? infinite possibilities. The challenge of life is to confront it with courage and wonder, to accept it for the precious gift that it is, to make the most of it while it is ours, and to leave the world a little richer for our having been here."

"The eye designed for beholding virtue we have trained upon ourselves. This eye also works very well. IT looks at weakness and sees strength."

"The ledger of Democracy is the sum total of the lines contributed by each of its citizens ? whether they be occupants of high political office or humble workers in a factory or on a farm. Each of us makes a contribution to the volume of America. What kind of passages are we writing?"

"The moment of bereavement is the most dreaded of all moments. So deeply do we fear separation from those we love that we try desperately to prevent the very thought of it from stealing into our consciousness. When in unguarded moments it succeeds in breaking through, we hasten to expel the unwelcome intruder. It is therefore not altogether strange that sorrow finds us emotionally unprepared and perhaps even rebellious and resentful."

"The most compelling reason no one can predict the future is that the future does not exist? We have freedom of will to determine the shape of tomorrow by what we do today."

"The most fateful choices are made in tragic loneliness. In the valley of decision, we stand alone, accompanied by our haunting fears and our stubborn hopes, by dread despair or gritty faith. Yet, though we appear to stand solitary, in truth we are accompanied by the tall and brave spirits who have stood where we stand and who, when torn between ?No? and ?Yes? to life and its infinite possibilities; by those who have had the wisdom to focus not on what they had lost but on what they had left; by those who understood that fate is what life gives us and that destiny is what we do with what?s given; and by those who, therefore, grasped the liberating truth that while we have no control over our fate, we do have an astonishing amount of control over our destiny."

"The road to fulfillment leads not to yesterday but to tomorrow."

"The true function of the pulpit is not so much to elucidate the obscure as it is to emphasize the obvious."

"Those who have gone before us have accumulated a precious legacy for us to enjoy, to enlarge and to transmit. Ours is the privilege to keep faith with the past, to give meaning to our present, to insure our future."

"Through the door of sorrow we can enter into the suffering of others. Our human compassion is kindled. Our sympathies are awakened. It can elicit from us powers of fortitude and patience which, but for it, might never have been quickened into life. Sorrow can also help purge us of pettiness and selfishness. It can, thus, bring us closer to our fellow man and help make us taller people. God does, indeed, open to us a door at the time when He closes the door of sorrow."

"Through the portals of sorrow we can enter into the suffering of others. Our human compassion is kindled. Our sympathies are awakened. Grief can also help purge us of pettiness and selfishness. It can elicit from us powers of fortitude and patience which, but for it, might have never been quickened into life. Sorrow can thus bring us closer to our fellow humans and help introduce us to ourselves."

"Time: The Thoughtful Thief. Time has been called a thief. There is much truth in that designation. Time robs us of our loved ones, steals the spring from our steps, the bloom from our cheeks, the smoothness from our skins. But, if Time is a thief, he is not without a core of compassion. For everything he takes, he thoughtfully leaves something behind. In place of loved ones, he leaves undying and enduring lessons. The bloom he stole, Time replaced with lines he gently etched in the bright moments of shared laughter and somber moments of chastening sorrow. If we can no longer run as quickly as we did yesterday, we can stand today with greater poise. And while Time was stealing the smoothness from our skins, he was giving us the opportunity to remove the wrinkles from our souls. Time does something else, too. Time converts knowledge into wisdom, energies spent into experience gained. Times leaves us richer for what we have had. And Time thoughtfully permits us to use the fire of youth to drive the engines of age. We can be young and old at the same time. We can be young enough to believe in people, but old enough not to expect more from them than we are prepared to give. We can be young enough to enjoy pleasure, but old enough to know that we miss the whole point of living if pleasure is all we pursue. We can be young enough to acquire a new idea and old enough to surrender an ancient prejudice. We can be young enough to strive for success, but old enough to treasure the things that money cannot buy. We can be young enough to want to be attractive, but old enough to appreciate the beauty that is manufactured inside ourselves. We can be young enough to seek companionship, but old enough to appreciate solitude. We can be young enough to crave happiness, but old enough to know that the harvest of happiness is usually reaped by the hands of helpfulness. We can be young enough to want to be loved, but old enough to strive to be lovable. We can be young enough to pray as if everything depended on God, but old enough to act as if everything depended on us."

"To believe in God is to have faith that He will give us, amidst all vicissitudes, the strength to endure, and the power to hold on and see it through, the capacity to translate even our trials and our tribulations into moral and spiritual victories."

"To make God the vital center of our lives in the hour of triumph means to regard ourselves under obligation to return to Him a portion of the physical and financial means with which He has blessed us? To put God in the middle of life means to make the whole enterprise, the whole business of life meaningful. Unless God is at work at the very core of life, what sense does the whole thing make?"

"Trouble and sorrow naturally make us think of ourselves. But after the first impact of the blow has worn off, our emotional recovery depends on our ability to forget ourselves. And there is no better way of forgetting about ourselves than by thinking of and serving others. The road of service leads in time to the green pastures of healing."

"We want to run from unpleasant duties, from nagging responsibilities, from life?s complexities and confusions. We want to run from harsh realities, from our fears and anxieties, from an accusing conscience. We want to run from boredom and bewilderment of existence."

"What has my life meant so far? What can it mean? What am I worth? Those who have discarded God will give us no comforting answers. You and I are here for no conceivable purpose, going nowhere in particular on a journey which is full of sound and fury but signifies absolutely nothing. You and I are, as one of them put it, ?Only a bundle of cellular matter on its way to becoming manure,? and life in the words of another, ?is a nightmare between two nothings.? But when God becomes the vital center of our lives, we get an entirely different set of answers. Your life and mine become infinitely precious because there is a spark of divinity aglow within us. ?Each one of us is a priceless mosaic in the design of God?s universe.? We are here at God?s orders rendering a command performance. And what we do with our lives is of everlasting significance. Life is an unending adventure towards the goal of becoming human. The cyclone of which we spoke at the beginning derives its extraordinary driving power because, as the poet said, in its heart ?is a place of central calm.? If we are to live our lives with courage, with compassion and with conviction we need God in our hearts to give our lives a place of central calm."

"When we are engulfed by the black night of despair it is worth remembering that if we do not give up, if we cling to the precious thread of life, the blackness will be conquered by the dawn when the sun will be aflame in the east, bright with all sorts of unsuspected possibilities."

"When we learn to look upon the humble ground on which we stand as holy ground, we have acquired the greatest encouragement we need to fertilize it and make it productive. We discover the poetry that is ambushed in the prosaic, the glory that is embedded in the commonplace, the opportunity that is hidden in the thicket of thorn bushes."

"When you look at life, do you see only your life and your needs, or do you see the lives and the needs of others as well? Do you see life as a campaign of acquisition or as an adventure in sharing? This question is basic because it spills over into every area of life."

"Where is God in this terrible tragedy? God is in the compassion we feel for the bereaved parents. God is in the sympathy and in the support that kind friends extend to the survivors. God is in the strength that the victim?s loved ones will somehow find as they make their way through the valley of the shadow. God is in the healing that will come to them ever so slowly but ever so surely. God is in the power of the human spirit to rise above sorrow and to transmute suffering into song, adversity into artistry, and pain into poetry. We come from God and we return to Him, and with the Source of life no soul is ever lost. God is also in the great gift of remembrance. As the poet said, God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December."

"Who will deny that it is in the very striving after these goals that life acquires its highest significance?"