During his years at Princeton, Albert Einstein received letters from people everywhere, asking him philosophical questions and for solutions to their personal problems. They may not have understood his physics, but they knew he had revolutionized scientific thinking and they commonly regarded him as “the smartest man in the world.”
Here’s a response he wrote to a rabbi who had asked him how he could explain to his nineteen-year-old daughter the reason for the death of her sister, whom the rabbi described as “a sinless, beautiful, sixteen-year-old child.” Einstein wrote:
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest ~ a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.Einstein reminds us that our preoccupation with our own lives will ultimately deprive us of the interconnectedness we share with the rest of existence, if we let it. A wise man, indeed.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security.