Over­com­ing Life’s Disappointments

  • Review
By – November 7, 2011

We all grap­ple with unful­filled expec­ta­tions and failed dreams. What lessons can we learn when life takes a dis­ap­point­ing turn? How can we rec­on­cile real­i­ty with our desires and dreams? The pro­lif­ic and wise Harold Kush­n­er attempts to answer such ques­tions in his beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten new book, Over­com­ing Life’s Disappointments. 

Kush­n­er rais­es and answers these ques­tions with stun­ning clar­i­ty by focus­ing on the life of Moses, one of the great­est fig­ures in bib­li­cal his­to­ry. When most of us think about Moses, the dra­mat­ic vision of God deliv­er­ing the Ten Com­mand­ments to him at Mount Sinai comes to mind. After the rev­e­la­tion at Sinai, God sum­moned Moses to spend forty days and night atop Mount Sinai. The sto­ry is famil­iar. In his absence, the Israelites fash­ioned a gold­en calf and con­sid­ered it a vis­i­ble embod­i­ment of God’s being. God became furi­ous, and sent Moses back down the moun­tain to see for him­self how the peo­ple had betrayed Him. Moses was dis­traught at the site of the Israelites danc­ing and cel­e­brat­ing around the statute of the calf, and con­se­quent­ly hurled the tablets to the ground and shat­tered them. When Moses gath­ered up the frag­ments of the tablets and lov­ing­ly placed them in the Ark along­side the intact replace­ment tablets, a pro­found state­ment was made about hold­ing onto the bro­ken pieces of a dream. This very metaphor is cen­tral to the theme of Kushner’s book, which is filled with prac­ti­cal prin­ci­ples that can help us recast our own frus­tra­tions and dis­ap­point­ments into pos­i­tive experiences.

Blessed with the abil­i­ty to com­bine ele­gant words of wis­dom with his deep faith, Kush­n­er reminds us that we should not allow our faith to dimin­ish or our dreams to die when per­son­al dif­fi­cul­ties arise, in the form of a loss, an ill­ness , or a divorce, for instance. When we real­ize that like Moses, we are work­ing for God, we become able to draw strength and courage from with­in our­selves, and respond appro­pri­ate­ly to prob­lems, even when oth­ers hurt us. Kush­n­er gen­tly reminds us to rec­og­nize the lim­i­ta­tions of oth­ers and accept them as they are, and to remem­ber that the world does not revolve around us. 

Over­com­ing Life’s Dis­ap­point­ments is filled with wis­dom about accept­ing life as it is, and mak­ing the most of our dreams, even if they do not turn out exact­ly as we desire. Like Moses, one should not let go of those bro­ken pieces of stone, which are reminders of his own beau­ti­ful dream, which shaped and defined him and con­tin­ued to influ­ence his life even after he real­ized that it would not turn out exact­ly the way he dreamed that it would. 

Both flu­id writer and bib­li­cal schol­ar, Rab­bi Kush­n­er has writ­ten yet anoth­er book that is at the same time pro­found and easy to under­stand, with prac­ti­cal lessons on how to live the best and most mean­ing­ful life we can, and con­tin­ue to count our bless­ings with­out los­ing our faith.

Bar­bara S. Cohen is a tri­al attor­ney in Los Ange­les who spe­cial­izes in child abuse cas­es. She is a mem­ber of NAMI and a sup­port­er of NARSAD, and is an advo­cate for those who suf­fer from men­tal illness.

Discussion Questions