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.