The Unfinished Symphony

We say that clocks go tick-tock. But they don’t. They go tick-tick. We supply the tock.

This observation, made by literary critic Frank Kermode in his classic work “The Sense of an Ending,” is a product of the human need for endings. We can’t stand to listen to music without the final resolving chord; we don’t like movies that refuse to wrap up neatly. We check how many pages are left in the book until we get to the ending. Tock.

But of course nothing truly ends. Life is a continuum. America’s great author-mystic, Herman Melville, was anti-ending. His alter-ego, the narrator Ishmael, says, “God keep me from ever completing anything.” The Jewish tradition is suspicious of endings. The Messiah has not come. The world is unfinished. God is called “Ayn Sof” — without end. The Children of Israel, when the Torah concludes in Deuteronomy, are still in the desert, because the Torah is a book without an ending. For us even death is a transition, not an ending.

Many years ago after moving into a condo I had a conversation with a survivor in my congregation, a man who built a very successful career as a developer. He asked how it was going. “Despite all this time,” I said, “it still isn’t finished.”

“Listen,” he said to me in a confidential voice, “Jews are never done.” Amen.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.