Monday, 06 December 2021

Choose motto for life and keep to it

GIVEN that none of us knows what lies around the corner, something that can help us deal best with whatever looms ahead is a really good motto.

Short, simple, pithy, but part of the personal armour that can give us strength to do the right thing or that can anchor us in our core values. Do you fancy any of the following:

There is the saying of the first century rabbi, Hillel, who tackles the dilemma we all face: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? [I have to put myself first]. But if I am only for myself, what am I? [Selfish, I have to consider others too]. And if not now, when?’ [Stop philosophising and get on with it].

A contemporary of his was Shammai, who declared: “Say little, do much and welcome everyone cheerfully.” As a religious paraphrase, it is superb: it rolls off the tongue easily but also covers a wide range of situations.

The motto of Rabbi Tarphon has been adopted as a modern slogan by Jews and others campaigning for various causes: “It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Whether it be fighting the effects of famine, tsunamis or other disasters, the overall task may be more than we alone can manage, but at least we should make our contribution to it.

I also like that of Mendel of Kotzk: “Take care of your own soul and another person’s body… but not of your own body and another person’s soul.” It’s a great way of highlighting what our priorities should be.

The words of two of my own teachers have left a deep impression on me.

One was Louis Jacobs who used to say in class that it was better to be probably right than definitely wrong while Lionel Blue held that religious cooking is generous cooking, reminding of the importance of hospitality and always having an extra place at the table.

If you are still stuck as to what to adopt, then you cannot do much better than the five words of Leviticus — Love your neighbour as yourself — which are unbeatable as a general guide to life.

But whatever it is, once you have chosen your motto, you have to make sure you put it into practice!

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