How one man left the world a better place
I was reminded of this while reading last week's Torah portion, Parshat Vayetze, which opens with one of the most famous spiritual encounters in the Torah, Jacob's vision of angels climbing and descending a ladder stretching from earth to the heavens.
Rachel Travis, writing for the American Jewish World Service offers an interesting counter to this midrash where she proposes Jacob's decline of God's offer was not out of fear, but out of the desire to stay rooted in the matters of the world.
She says he understood what the Talmud articulates later, that the Torah exists not in the heavens, but on earth. Jacob realizes he could only have a true impact by acting in this world, not by ascending to the heavens.
This begs the question about our own lives and if we choose to remain observers in the world or fully tangle with the world's problems?
My uncle chose the latter. During his lifetime he was known as the man who invented the nickel-metal-hydride battery that powers most laptop computers. He was the driving force behind liquid flat-screen liquid crystal TV and computer screens, solar energy panels, electric car technology and hydrogen fuel cells. They coined his science "Ovonics," a combination of Ovshinsky and electronics for revolutionizing the field of amorphous semiconductors.
For more than 50 years -- far before it became fashionable -- Stan had worried about the environment, global warming and the dwindling supply of oil.
He was still working to make solar cells so efficient that they would be cheaper than electricity generated from burning coal right before his death.
He told journalist and friend, Jack Lessenberry in one of his last interviews, "And I'm convinced I can get there."
Time magazine called him "a hero for the planet. The Economist magazine called him "the Edison of our age."
As Lessenberry puts it, "Few knew his purpose was political. To find solutions to the problems of the world and make life better for everyone."
My cousin, Harvey Ovshinsky, was quoted as saying his father, in addition to being a scientist, was a committed humanitarian. "His courage and leadership from the early days of the labor, civil rights and peace movements continued in his lifelong dedication to a just society for all."
My uncle's accomplishments remind me that we may not always finish what we set out to do in life, but it is our responsibility to do all we can to make the world a better place, while we're here. Stan was a secular Jew (as am I ) and didn't put much stock, I don't think, in Bible stories. But I like to think he just might have agreed with the thought behind this one.