The Purpose of Life

It was a mid-morning on a Friday and I’m sitting behind a desk, a memo pad with Cyrillic and Hebrew text in front of me and a keyboard and screen on my right. No, I am not a Russian accountant working in Israel, I am a moderator. I know that sounds quite moderate but it’s not, at least not when I am given the job. My task as a moderator is to critique Rabbinical candidates on the content and style of a prepared speech. It forms a part of a Rabbis training programme and (I rationaliise) rather let me be cruel so that he can be kind to the people in the pews.

That morning was a Friday about three weeks ago and the speakers’ topic was “The Purpose of Life”. They had given us an office that housed an outreach organisation for Russian Jews (hence the Cyrillic and Hebrew memo pad). The space was haphazardly arranged with desks and chairs scattered around the vaguely octagonal room. Not the ideal setting for a practice session for a public speech.

Let’s face it, the topic isn’t the easiest. I ventured that the answer may be 42, but it was quickly dismissed as being either heretical or mystical. So I sat back,my pen armed to note all logical and technical faults. He started off provocatively, “If a person has no clear purpose he is a nothing”, I made a note on the inappropriate beginning, thinking to myself, these rookies just don’t get it, do they! But he made a fantastic comeback, “imagine if a person was sitting in his office, at his desk, with no clue what his job was. (Sitting behind that desk, not quite knowing what I was doing, I related). Every day he would go into the office and just sit there until six and then he would go home. Isn’t that a waste? Well” a sly smile crossing his face, “if we don’t know what we are doing with our lives, are we any better?” I liked it, maybe a little too strong, but it got the point across.

I leaned forward, keen to hear his approach. “No, no, he’s missed it” I thought. “Our entire purpose in the world is to build a relationship with Hashem”. “Stop” my interjection was confident, “What about your mission, your specific goal, what you can add to the world, your unique role? Having a mission as a focus is very different from building a relationship” I concluded with a mildly patronising tone, (and what about that great job analogy that he began the whole talk with? I felt he was changing route mid drosha, I noted it).

The talk came to an end and he came back to argue with me. And I have to admit that he did knock me a bit off balance. He kept on insisting that he was simply quoting the Ramchal in his famous work The Path of the Just. I opened up the Mesilas Yeshorim and tried to see his point of view. It jumped out of the page at me. I was amazed that I’d missed it until now(I must have learnt that first chapter over 100 times) . He was right, well almost.

We are all charged with a mission that only we can perform, but the end point, the reward and the goal is to get a connection with Hashem. The mission may involve using every gift I’ve been given to change the world, but ultimately it all has one direction, connection with the Creator. So here I am still processing what that means for the way I live my life within the framework of Mitzvos and the study of Torah, all just means to the end – dveikus.

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3 thoughts on “The Purpose of Life

  1. Steven – 2 corrections – Elkabir not Alkabir (I am not an Iranian Jihadist) and by you saying “I think you defined both sides quite well” I think you mean – The Rav is saying exactly what I was saying. Understanding who you are, working on the pratim and learning mussar are all means to the end – Dveikus.

    Without that end, all of those things just become self orientated, isolated exercises without a broader context.

    Ok maybe not entirely true…. Rav maybe you could help shed some light.

    Hush and my argument started off because I challenged him that perhaps we should focus a lot more energy on our relationship with H’ in regards to emunah and bitachon and not necesarily focus as much attention to the avoida in the pratim.

    My argument was that emunah and bitachon are the panacea for all our “pratim” within our avoida. Instead on “working on kaas perhaps working on emunah will help us with kaas- the knowledge that everything is from H’ and is for the best. And at the same time working on your emunah helps us with gevia – its not me and teiva – How can i do that in front of a King of whom i love and respect and have a a relationship with, and everything else…….

    I do see the need to understand yourself, your strengths and your pitfalls, but once that is achieved is it not just worth our while focusing all our energy on emunah and bitachon and forming a relationship with H’ – does this not just have a spill over effect on everything for the good.

    At this point Hush said something that made me think – but still not 100% sure about it. He mentioned that one of the Mussar giant (perhaps R’ Wolbe in Allei Shur) said that everyone has their “trump” mida – the middah that is strong in them and if they strenghen more will be able to so to speak defeat all other negative middos. Perhaps this is what I am describing in myself when I talk about emunah – and for another person it would be emes or something else?

    Any thoughts

    • Berfore we explore which of you is treading the straight path in life, let us for a moment stand back and behold the vista of your discussion. The very act of debating the nature of purpose in a distraction saturated world has intrinsic value. A very long winded way of saying “thank you for caring!!”.

      The source that it is all about dveikus is explicit in the first chapter of Mesilas Yeshorim. It is clear even in the first paragraph that mitzvos are a means to an end and not the end itself. And the end is quite clearly dveikus – connection to HKBH.

      Re the cenrality of emuna, its an explicit Gemora at the end of Makkos that quotes Chabakuk who says “tzadik bemunaso yichye” and considers this the contemporary basis for all avoda. So you would be right in saying that emuna acts as the fulcrum for all other avoda.

      The last point that you made in regard to the “trump” mida is taken from the Alter of Kelm and both R Yerucham and R Wolbe expand upon it. The basic idea is that your task in life is to refine your talents and not to focus on correcting your faults. This is based on the fact that growth is not actual growth i.e. the slow incremental development from embryo to actualisation, but rather a revelation of a pre-existing greatness that has been covered over with the gunk of bad midos. (See recent shiurim on the web site entitled “The first stage of growth”).

      It is really a different point to living life with emuna. One is the way I achieve my potential and the other is the background theme in my life and my being.

  2. Great article Rav. Dan Alkabir and I have been discussing the exact same topic, and I think you defined both sides very nicely. What is the source for saying that dveikus is the ultimate end goal?

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