Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, Overland Park, Kan.:
One exerts complete control over his life when he wishes to destroy it. I can always choose to jump off a 10-story roof.
If, however, one wishes to create something, to be successful, to build a life of sense and meaning, his work alone will not suffice. A person is going to need a partner, and that is the message of the Psalmist.
Don’t think for a moment that the world is in your hands, and that without the assent of those forces beyond your control, your acts would have meaning.
Some would call it dumb luck, while others would see the hand of the Divine. No thinking individual assumes that there were no other factors than their own hard work that contributed to their success. Such arrogance is what the Psalm is addressing. Your efforts alone are futile, without the designs of your creator, what dare you think you might achieve?
What would happen if the sea split, and nobody was there to cross it? It would be downgraded from the miraculous to the curious. Hard work is only rewarded if the timing is right, but timing is often out of our control. The Psalm teaches the humility we bring to every venture.
If we do nothing, the outcome will be predetermined, but even if we do everything, our good efforts may prove to be futile.
When Napoleon interviewed generals, he asked if they were “lucky.” I would ask, “Does he walk with God?”
Rev. Holly McKissick, Peace Christian Church, Overland Park:
The psalmist sang, “The Lord knows all human plans; they are futile.” The author of Ecclesiastes agreed, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” Everything is born, only to die.
While we imagine our lives as infinitely significant, in truth, we are dust in the wind. When we breathe our last, there will still be little girls who scrounge for dinner in dumpsters; boys in refugee camps who grow old, never leaving the barbed wire.
In a broken, hopelessly complicated world, we are still commanded to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly; to remember that we are not required to complete the task any more than we are allowed to set it aside. Apart from our results or outcomes, God’s beloved community will grow.
Frank Buckles was anything but vain. The last surviving American World War I veteran, he served as an army ambulance driver in Europe; and spent the second World War as a civilian prisoner of the Japanese.
He had no interest in being honored. Instead, he worked tirelessly, lobbying, fundraising, even speaking before Congress at the age of 108 to create a memorial to World War I vets for the National Mall, like those for the second world war, Korea and Vietnam.
Frank died earlier this year at 110. The memorial has stalled, perhaps permanently, but the temple he built of commitment, perseverance and selflessness will endure.
Kansas City Star