Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality

Life's Not Fair

As part of my rabbinic work, I collaborate (using the term somewhat loosely) with students who are about to become bar or bat mitzvah. They are approaching the age of 13, which means one of the phrases I hear relatively frequently is, “that’s not fair.” This group of kids (of whom I am very fond) is particularly sharp, but also very strong willed. Thus, I am occasionally informed that something is unfair at times that a more timid individual might refrain.

Case in point: I have the students up on the bima with me during services, to help them learn how to lead. This week, I asked them to individually begin to read sections on their own, or to lead the congregation in reading. And I was informed, in the middle of services, nay, in the middle of a specific prayer, that I was unfairly distributing the parts, and that the student who felt this discrimination had already read more than some of her compatriots. My response at the time was, “life’s not fair.”

In thinking about it later, I realized just how true my statement was.

Life’s not fair. My students, and I, are, by virtue of having been born in the United States at the end of the 20th century, afforded a standard of living higher than almost anyone born in any other time or place. We do not need to fear famine. Most disease is treatable. We live in outrageous luxury. Which gives us time to complain about the fairness of life–or the lack thereof.

I fully recognize that this is not the answer to my students’ complaint. Nonetheless, the realization that life isn’t fair, and that I am the beneficiary of the unfairness is uncomfortable for me. It is something to struggle with. It is somehow much more comfortable to say, “life’s not fair” when one is being disadvantaged by that unfairness than when one is benefiting from it. While I am benefiting from the unfairness, I somehow feel obliged to make the world more fair. . .though I am no more to “blame” for my advantage than I would be for my disadvantage. But being advantaged does give me some responsibility.

Because I am unfairly born with a larger proportion of resources than are my due, I do have the ability to effect more change than one born without those resources. I have the education to make my voice heard. I have the opportunity to teach my students that they are in fact, correct, that life isn’t fair, and we all need to work to change that.