A few years ago one of my sons brought home a new, and much more
sophisticated computer game. It is a new breed, Dad, he explained, called
virtual reality. You play it by entering it. Your only chance at winning is
by imagining that you are actually inside it. You have to ask yourself, What
would I do if I really lived in this world?
At the beginning of this game (called Myst), you look at the screen
and find yourself on an island. Theres a dock, a forest, buildings, stairways.
The graphics and sound effects are impressive and convincing. There is no
manual, no instructions, no rules. You go places by aiming a little pointing
finger and clicking. You can look up and down, turn around, climb stairs,
wander all around the place. Everywhere your curiosity leads you, there are things
to discover, learn and remember. There are machines you can operate, a library
full of books you can actually open and read. After a while, the dedicated
player will discover how to leave the island and go to other mysterious places.
Devotees say the game is properly played over weeks and even months.
And the purpose of it all? Why, of course: To figure out what youre
doing there. But to do that, you must first figure out how the place works.
What fascinates me here is not yet another sophisticated and clever way
to waste time in front of the computer screen. (I can do that with File
Manager.) It is the concept of a game whose purpose is for the player to
discover the purpose. Virtual reality, schmirtual reality, this is no game.
Whats going on here? Why am I here? What are the rules?
Upon hearing about all this, Alan Feldman, a friend who is a professor
of English, suggested that it seemed a lot like childhood. Id go farther. It
may be a lot like adulthood, too. We all find ourselves in this world and the
object seems to be to figure out what were doing here. Unfortunately, most
of the ways one thing is connected to or dependent upon another thing are not
After all, meaning is primarily a matter of relationship. If something
is connected to absolutely nothing - symbolically, linguistically, physically,
psychologically - it is literally meaning-less. And in the same way, if something
is connected to everyone and everything, it would be supremely meaning-full. I
suppose it would be God: The One through whom everything is connected to
everything else, the Source of all meaning. Religious traditions are the
collected rules of the game. They tell us how the world works. And if you
play by them, you are rewarded (hopefully before it is time to leave) with an
understanding of why you are here; with what is otherwise known as the meaning
What if there were a virtual reality computer game that was programmed
to approximate real life? If you could design such a program, what would be
the object? The way I see it there are only five rules.
The first rule of the game of life is that you cannot decide when to
begin playing. One day, out of the blue, you realize it: Uh-oh, Im playing
the game! Someone or something else determined when your game would begin. And
it wasnt your parents. They may have known about the birds and the bees and
even set out to conceive a child, but they didnt have a clue it was going to
be you. And now that theyve had a chance to meet you, while they most likely
love you, theyd probably have picked somebody else. In religious language,
this means that you are a creature. Someone else made you. And you are neither
its partner nor its puppet: You are its manifestation, its agent, its child.
The second rule is that you cannot decide when to stop playing the
game, either. One day, out of the blue: Youre dead. For a slogan on the box of
the game of Life, we could use something I saw on a T-shirt: Life: Youre
not going to make it out alive! That means theres no way you can win the
game by staying in it forever. No matter how many points, toys, honors,
conquests, dollars you accumulate, sooner than anyone expects or wants, the
game is abruptly over. You hear a little buzzer, the keyboard freezes, the
screen goes blank. The game ends without warning. But theres good news: Dying
does not mean you lose. Its what you do before you die that determines whether
or not you win when you die.
The third rule - just to keep you on your toes - is that each player is
issued apparently random, undeserved gifts and handicaps throughout the
progress of the game. Figuring out why you got the combination package you did
transforms all disabilities into gifts, just as refusing to figure out why you
were issued what you received, transforms all gifts into disabilities. My
father used to say that all men are not created equal. Some get dealt a full
house; others, a pair of twos. The question therefore is not whether you
deserve the hand you were dealt, but how you choose to play it.
The fourth rule is that points are awarded whenever you can discern the
presence, or the signature, of the Creator, and then act so as to help others
see it too. The signature is not just in objects, but in actions and thoughts
and feelings; not just in sunshine and happiness, but in agony, struggle and
death. Remember: Finding the signature and then acting in such a way as to help
others find it too, is the only way to accumulate game points.
And the last rule is that everything is connected to everything else.
And for that reason, life is supercharged, permeated and over-brimming with
purpose and meaning. Most of the time we are oblivious to it. We go about our
lives as if every event were an accident. And then something happens and we see
the connection, the signature of the Creator, a design. For a just moment it is
unmistakable. We are astonished that we couldnt see it until now. All Creation
is one great unity. There are no coincidences. Throughout all Creation, just beneath the surface, joining each
person to every other person and to every other thing in a luminous organism of
sacred responsibility, we discover invisible lines of connection.
Now thats my idea of a
Contributed by: Rabbi Lawrence Kushner