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One of the most distinguishing marks of wisdom is surely the capacity to ask the right questions.

In Jewish life we’ve always prized a good question over a mediocre or lame answer. If you don’t question you don’t learn or as Hillel puts it ‘the shy or bashful cannot be educated’ ( Avot 2,6). Socrates famously reminded us that the unexamined life is not worth living.

So what’s a good question?  I would suggest it is one that opens a new door, pushes the barriers of our comfort, challenges us and stimulate others.

If you had just one meaningful question you could ask what would it be? For Cain (Genesis 2) it was: “Am I really my brother’s keeper?” For Abraham and Moses it was: “What does God want of me?” For Aristotle: “What is happiness?” For Shakespeare: “To be or not to be?”

For many of us today the question may well be: “How do I achieve balance in my life?” Balance is surely the quintessence of a good life. It includes the fine tuning of love and responsibility, of finding the elegant space between comfort and change, of holding on and letting go, of dreaming and building.

Perhaps this is what king Solomon had in mind when he rhymed out: “For everything there is a time and season, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to tear down and a time to build .…”(Ecclesiastes 3,1) Ellen DeGeneres put it humorously when she said that life is about balance – the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, the pina and the colada.

The Hebrew word for balance is Izzun איזון. Not only does it sound like another Hebrew word but is spelt almost exactly like it. It’s the word for ear אוזן. As our Chief Medical Officer at JCV , Dr Simon Grof reminded me, physical/body balance relies on the inner ear (the vestibular system). When these are not in equilibrium you can develop symptoms such as vertigo and unsteadiness. It’s something anyone who works in aged care is acutely aware of -falls due to a lack of balance are a common cause of distress for the aged.

There is another common way in which we fall and fail in life. I am referring to our failure to listen carefully. Balance for an individual is about listening to your body, paying attention to your heart and being sensitive to your soul. It’s about hearing what God and the universe expect of us. About what our environment demands of us. At this time of the UN Climate Conference in Cairo, we should be carefully attuned to the cries of our environment – the earth is not being silent but sobbing with the pain that we are inflicting on it.

Listening, is of course critical for any sound relationship and axiomatic for a meaningful marriage. In our relationships with our partners and our children, our parents, workmates and friends, we need to constantly strive to find the balance between our needs and their needs, between me and we. Finding that superb space between caring love and smothering or stifling the other.

In our religious life the delicate balance between open mindedness and extremism is critical. Something that is being played out across the world today is how religious practitioners are tearing the middle apart. I worry deeply about the future of democracy in America, I am filled with angst at the rise of right wing religious extremism  in Israel.

Balance isn’t just about something you find but rather about something you constantly create. Albert Einstein suggested it’s like riding a bike – to keep your balance you must keep on moving. In other words we need to be regularly working on achieving balance. The first call to Abraham and Sarah, founders of the Jewish people, is precisely about this: “Lech lecha” says God. Go forward, keep on moving but always be people of justice and righteousness, charity and compassion. The words are echoed in Abraham’s most critical challenge when God calls on him to go forward and bind his son in sacrifice. A daunting task – how can you go forward and retain your momentum when facing the chasm between life and death? The assurance (and consolation) of faith is that it is possible!

My wish for this Shabbat is that we always strive for equilibrium, that we find  the courage, attention and action that good listening, good questions and good balance all demand.

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