Saturday, June 19

The Essence of Good Life

Hi all! I am on vacation and wanted to share an extraordinary moment with you that I connected with the concept of menuha as described by Rabbi Heschel. You can read his thoughts excerpted below. But as a quick preface, yesterday we paddled kayaks to a nature preserve and then took a 1/2 mile hike to a hidden waterfall. By the way, that 1/2 mile was straight down! Coming back was a bear! Or here in Hawai'i, I suppose you'd say it was a wild pig.

Our guide started us out on our journey by sounding a conch shell. So much like a shofar from Hebrew tradition. He corralled his little group of tourists by referring to us as "ohana" or family. (Forgive me if I am in error on the spelling!). And when we arrived to the waterfall, he went first, sat beneath the falls and to me, it looked like he was praying. All throughout the trip, he modeled ohana (family), mahalo (gratitude/thankfulness), and the spirit of aloha (hello/goodbye/I love you).

Then I read Rabbi Heschel's description of menuha. I thought, "That's it!" In the ancient cultures of the world, be they ancient Israelite or ancient Hawaiian, there is an essence that is something like aloha or menuha. It is what we long for and drive towards. But so often, we fill that longing with things rather than with wonder. Things rather than peace. Things rather than serenity. Only by detaching do we have space for aloha. Only by emptying do we have space for menuha.

Here's a photo of our guide sitting under the waterfall.

menuha by Terri Stewart CC (BY-SA) Kaua'i Huleia National Wildlife Refuge
by Terri Stewart
Huleia National Wildlife Refuge


The words: “On the seventh day God finished His work” (Genesis 2: 2), seem to be a puzzle. Is it not said: “He rested on the seventh day”?

“In six days the Lord made heaven and earth” (Exodus 20: 11)? We would surely expect the Bible to tell us that on the sixth day God finished His work. Obviously, the ancient rabbis concluded, there was an act of creation on the seventh day. Just as heaven and earth were created in six days, menuha was created on the Sabbath.

“After the six days of creation— what did the universe still lack? Menuha. Came the Sabbath, came menuha, and the universe was complete.” Menuha which we usually render with “rest” means here much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, strain or activity of any kind. Menuha is not a negative concept but something real and intrinsically positive. This must have been the view of the ancient rabbis if they believed that it took a special act of creation to bring it into being, that the universe would be incomplete without it.

“What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose.”

To the biblical mind menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony. The word with which Job described the state after life he was longing for is derived from the same root as menuha. It is the state wherein man lies still, wherein the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust.

The essence of good life is menuha.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua (2005-08-17). The Sabbath (pp. 10-11). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.


  • What you talk about it still VERY much a part of life in the popular culture of the Islands. Without using the “m-word”, that’s what I was alluding to when I described the profound sense of welcome & acceptance I experienced when I first met Diane’s family, and that I still experience every time we return. It’s just sort of in the cultural air & water. It’s something Hawaiians (not just native Hawaiians, but Hawaii residents of whatever background) take for granted in a very matter-of-fact way.

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