You Are God’s Partner Put on
This Earth to Do God’s Work
“What on earth are you here for? To do the tasks that God has for you…. You can call someone who is lonely. You can visit a friend who is sick. You can read a book to a child. You can comfort a mourner. You can volunteer your time. You can make a difference. You can give of your self—a self that is infused with godliness.”
—from the Introduction
All human beings are made in the image of God. But for what purpose were you made? The biblical answer is clear: you are to imitate God in order to bring God’s presence into your life and the lives of others.
This practical guidebook to repairing the world—often in simple everyday ways—details the biblical accounts of what God does, not what God says: God creates, blesses, rests, calls, comforts, cares, repairs, wrestles, gives and forgives. For each of God’s actions, this provocative resource suggests what might be on God’s To-Do List for you, the many ways you can make small and great differences in the lives of others and find the ultimate source of meaning for your own.
An inspiring gift to uplift your spirit and share with others, whatever your faith, you can do God’s To-Do List.
“Wolfson’s pragmatic wisdom and feeling intelligence combine to add why, how, where, and when for people in search of meaning.”
—Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Valley Beth Shalom, Encino, California; founding chairman, Jewish Foundation for the Righteous
“A clear and practical roadmap, which can transform your life and change a corner of the world.”
—Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar, author, The Bridge to Forgiveness: Stories and Prayers for Finding God and Restoring Wholeness
“This book is built on a great premise: Figure out what God does and then do that with other people! Simple but profound. I loved this book!”
—Rick Warren, author, The Purpose-Driven Life
“Straight from the heart, full of wisdom, funny, moving and uplifting … an inspiring guide to the true meaning of life. Offers hope, light and an irresistible invitation to change our lives for the better.”
—Rabbi Janet Marder, senior rabbi, Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, California
“Some books provide inspiration, but are not practical. Some are practical, but do not inspire. It is Ron Wolfson’s special gift, and this work’s special merit, to give us both.”
—Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, California
“This wonderfully readable, highly actionable book of gentle wisdom can turn your life’s journey toward deeper meaning, greater compassion, and joy. You CAN be a blessing!”
—Rabbi Rachel Cowan, executive director, Institute for Jewish Spirituality
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Finally, I’m now doing something in my everyday life that makes a difference to the world. This book made it easy.
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RON WOLFSON BIO
Dr. Ron Wolfson is Fingerhut Professor of Education at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and a cofounder of Synagogue 3000. He is author of Hanukkah, Passover, and Shabbat, all family guides to spiritual celebrations; The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community; A Time to Mourn, a Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement and Comfort; and, with Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, What You Will See Inside a Synagogue (all Jewish Lights). To see the To-Do Lists of others or to post your own, go to www.godstodolist.org.
Q&A WITH RON WOLFSON
Why did you write this book?
I’ve always been intrigued by the question posed by Pastor Rick Warren in his book, The Purpose-Driven Life: “What on earth am I here for?” Rick’s book offers a Christian answer to this question. I wanted to present a Jewish answer.
What’s the Jewish answer?
Well, the book is all about the answer. But, simply put, Judaism believes human beings are made in the image of God, allowing us to be God’s partner in doing the ongoing work of creation and repair of the world.
Where did you get the idea of looking at what God does, not what God says, to discover ways we can emulate God?
In the siddur—the prayer book—the morning service contains one of my all-time favorite meditations, drawn from the Talmud, Sotah 14a: “Follow the Lord Your God” (Deuteronomy 13:5).
What does this mean? Is it possible for a mortal to follow God’s Presence?
The verse teaches we should "follow the attributes of the Holy One, praised be God." As God clothes the naked, we should clothe the naked. The Bible teaches that the Holy One visited the sick; we should visit the sick. The Holy One comforted those who mourned; we should comfort those who mourn. The Holy One buried the dead; we should bury the dead.
The problem is that many people don’t get to the synagogue in time to read this passage. It is only one of several designed to get us to think about our purpose.
Yes, but it doesn’t say “be creative” like God is creative.
Ah, I suppose that could be considered the hiddush—the innovation—in God’s To-Do List. I asked myself, “OK, if we’re supposed to emulate God’s actions, what’s the first thing in the Torah God does?” Answer: God creates. If I really believe I have the spark of divinity within me, then I have the potential to create, too!
Are the stories in the book true?
Yes. Every one of the stories is about real people who act as God’s partners on earth. I’ve only changed some names to protect people’s privacy. In the few months the book has been out, people are sharing many stories with me. Please do! You can write to me via the Jewish Lights website or go to www.godstodolist.org and send me a message!
Where did you come up with the idea for the “Ten Days of Renewal” campaign?
I have seen many communities decide to read the same book at the same time. It’s a terrific idea. When I looked at what I had written, I realized that the first chapter of God’s To-Do List was about creating and the last chapter was about forgiving. These are exactly the themes of Rosh Hashanah—the “birthday” of the world—and Yom Kippur—the “Day of Atonement,” during which we seek forgiveness. I thought, “Wow, imagine if an entire congregation read this book, one chapter a day, during the ‘Ten Days of Renewal’ of the High Holy Days!” I hope many congregations will do this. It’s the perfect time of year to think about our ultimate purpose.
What if I don’t believe in God?
One of the great attributes of Judaism is that there are many ways to define what “God” means—and you can still remain in the Jewish tent. Whether you believe in God as a real force in your life or as a metaphor, the idea is to consider how you can do good work on earth and make a difference in the world—someone’s world. When you do, I believe you can find meaning and purpose in your life.
Does Judaism really believe in “angels”?
Yes, indeed! There is an elaborate angelology that has evolved over the centuries, with many midrashim—interpretations/stories—about their role as God’s partners. Even if you don’t believe in the existence of angels, I’m certain that at some point in your life someone has asked you to “be an angel.” My wife, Susie, says this to me all the time: “Ronnie, be an angel and pick up the dry cleaning.” Well, when I emulate God’s ways, I can be an angel … and so can you!
Would my Christian friends enjoy this book?
One of my hopes is that the book will present Jewish wisdom to people of all faiths. I have been overwhelmed with the positive responses from Christians who are intensely curious about how we read the Bible, interpret texts, and live our values. I encourage you to share the book with friends from other faith traditions.
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- What does it mean to be a human being “made in the image of God”? Are there times in your life when you think of yourself in this way?
- What is Judaism’s answer to the question: “What on earth am I here for?”
- Has anyone ever asked you to “be an angel”? In what context?
- Ron shares stories to illustrate God’s characteristics—middot (in Hebrew). As you read each chapter, come to the book group with a story about yourself or others that illuminates how human beings emulate God’s ways.
- There are ten categories of ways to be like God, one in each chapter. Are there other ways God acts in the Torah that could be instructive?
- Ask each member of the book group to create a personal “God’s To-Do List”—To-Dos that each person can aspire to accomplish as God’s partner on earth.
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