What is the Calling of Our Time?
 
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What is the Calling of Our Time?
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson

As we approach Rosh Hashana here is a good question to ask yourself:

If you were able to have a glimpse of G-d’s innermost thoughts what would they look like? (Answer below. Please don’t peek).

*   *   *

Another year has passed. As can be said of every year: many good things as well as many sad events have transpired.

People have died, and new children born. Some have married and found love and bliss; others have experienced loss and heartbreak.

The cynic may conclude, paraphrasing Ecclesiastes: A generation has passed, a generation has arrived, and there is nothing new under the sun. Only the names and props have changed.

The faithful will, however, add that nothing is new “under the sun”, but “over the sun,” in the higher/inner world of spirit, new energy is always brewing.

As a new year approaches and a new and unprecedented energy is about to enter our lives, let us all rise a bit above “the sun,”

The choice is ours: Will we remain stuck breathing “recycled stale air” resulting from being trapped in the “greenhouse” of our tedious lives “beneath the sun.” Or will we transcend the earthy stratosphere and live dynamic, passionate lives.

Boredom, the monotony of the daily grind, is one of our greatest enemies. The vacuum that a monotonous life creates is extremely susceptible; desperate for something, anything, that will relieve the quotidian.

The dilemma was addressed by Moses over three millennia ago.

One of the most compelling and germane Biblical verses is in this week’s Torah portion, which we always read before Rosh Hashana. Moses, delivering his last words to the Jewish nation, dramatically tells them: “The mandate that I am prescribing to you today is not beyond or distant from you. It is not in heaven…It is not over the sea… It is something very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”

What exactly is Moses saying? Why would we think that the mandate is “distant” and beyond us? The answer becomes quite apparent when we look at our own lives: Living in a mundane world, inundated and consumed by material needs, the universal search for deeper purpose can be quite daunting. Where do we find direction? How do we access spirituality when we are surrounded by narcissism? Can we maintain higher integrity in a corrupt world? Is spiritual passion possible in a pedestrian life?

The spiritual mandate can seem very distant and inaccessible to us. It can appear difficult, something relegated to “heaven,” which we can access only when we climb the mountain, but not in our lives on earth, or across “the sea,” but not in our local lives.

As a true leader, sensitive to the needs of people, Moses anticipated this dilemma, and therefore stated, days before he passed away: Know that the spiritual mandate is not difficult, distant or beyond you. It is “very close” – close as in accessible and relevant – very close to you and your life.

These words resonate through the ages as the single most compelling challenge in life: How to access the spiritual path? How to live a meaningful life?

Indeed, the classic Tanya (authored by the Torah giant, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, 1745-1812) is based on this verse, “to explain clearly how it is exceedingly near.” Tanya – the Bible of Chassidic thought – lays out a comprehensive psycho-spiritual outline how to actually discover the profound relevance in the Torah mandate.

If spiritual relevance is the challenge of history, today it is especially acute.

In this writer’s opinion, two major crises loom above them all and will only continue to haunt us: Divisiveness and education.

Conflict plagues every segment of society. From global confrontations considered to be a “clash of civilizations” to the accelerated battle between faith and atheism. Within religion itself, and within each individual religion, irreparable rifts separate denominations of every garden variety, cultivating distrust, discrimination and often worse.

Things are not much better on the personal and interpersonal front. How many people do you know that you can honestly say are at peace with them selves? One out of two marriages fail. And how many are failing without a legal divorce? The story of personal dissonance (I’m afraid to say: misery) consuming our lives is reflected in the colossal sales of books and products (healthy or unhealthy) offering wholesomeness and inner peace, coupled with the billions spent on therapy – is anybody not in therapy today? Not to mention the multi-billion industry of self-medication (literal or figurative).

The plague of divisiveness is especially glaring against the backdrop of technological unity we are experiencing in the increasingly shrinking global village. With all the advances in communications – instantaneous connection to anyone anywhere anytime – are we actually communicating better? Is there more trust between people?

The second crisis is in the area of education, namely the values taught in our schools and homes. The best education will teach a student the skills to earn a respectable income. But what about life skills? How to love and be loved. How to be a giver and not just a taker. How to fulfill your life’s mission and leave a permanent mark, rather than just survive, entertain yourself and perpetuate the temporal. These lessons are almost completely dependent on circumstantial factors – a good family (and that too may not be enough), bumping into the right mentor, often hitting rock bottom and learning from the upturn of life’s curve.

With the average American child annually spending 900 hours in school and nearly 1023 hours in front of a TV, watching an average 8000 murders on TV before finishing elementary school – what will counter the balance?

These crises of divisiveness and education are especially acute in the Jewish community.

Strange as it may sound, the comforts of our modern lives not only don’t bring us together, they actually divide us further.

The good news is that both challenges are rooted in the same place: A lack of soulfulness.

When we see ourselves as mere material creatures we have no other recourse than drawing “lines in the sand” that define our boundaries and differences. The cardinal law of matter, after all, is that each of its pieces occupies its own space, distinct from others. However, when we recognize our spiritual commonality, then we are more like limbs of one organism, fundamentally and inherently connected, each complementing and depending on the other.

Same with education: The only force that will infuse our children (and ourselves) with higher values and empower them to face the challenges of a material world is not more materialism, but (surprise: what is the opposite of matter?)… spirituality: A deep sense of the soul within each of us and the mission of the soul’s journey in this life. No child on earth should be deprived of the need to discover meaning in life. Every boy and girl must know to ask the question, ingrained in his or her psyche from the youngest age: What is my calling?

Spirituality has to be become an essential ingredient in the education of every child, and an absolute prerequisite study for any aspiring leader, teacher or clergyperson.

The message of the soul is the single most relevant message you will ever hear – and it is renewed each Rosh Hashana, the collective birthday of the human race:

You are indispensable. Every one of us was created in the Divine Image with an exclusive imprint, unique to you and you alone. Only you can fulfill your role and play your special music. And the whole world apprehensively waits – and cannot be complete – until you actualize your life’s calling and make your unique mark and contribution.

*   *   *

Now, back to the initial question: What do G-d’s innermost thoughts look like?

One century ago, in the year 1907, the great Rebbe Rashab, discussed this very topic in the conclusion of his classic Hemshech Samach-Vav (the series of 61 discourses he delivered in 1905-1908).

Samach-Vav explains that the Divine essence is hidden from view and from every form of expression. Yet in creating existence G-d did reveal Himself. Different aspects of the universe manifest and express different aspects of the Divine personality.

Like it is with any structure, there are the means and the ends. Even though a building may have a particular purpose, it still is comprosed of sections and rooms that are peripheral but necessary for the function of the entire entity. The primary objective of a library, for instance, is to house books. Yet, the library building will have lobbies, doors, halls, offices, cafeterias, restrooms and other areas that all serve as means and secondary roles to support the main function of the building.

The same is with our own lives: Whatever our primary mission in life may be, we also have many peripheral activities necessary to survive and fulfill our goals: Eating, sleeping grooming, shopping, exercising and entertaining. (Actually, except for rare instances, the means consume most of the time of our days).

This is all a metaphor for the Divine: The large material universe is the elaborate stage upon which the primary purpose of existence plays itself out, and the human being is the central character charged with the mission to fulfill this purpose: To transform the physical world into a Divine abode.

The “means” – all the props on the grand stage of the universe – are considered to be created through Divine speech, which is detached from its source and communicates the message to an entity outside of itself. When you direct workers to do a job for you, the workers only hear your verbal instructions, the immediate needs of the small picture, without necessarily knowing or appreciating your innermost thoughts and objectives.

Thought, on the other hand, expresses your inner goals and objectives – the big picture. The most intimate dimension of Divine thought is reflected in the creation of the human being. This is the meaning of the statement that the human is created in the Divine Image: Though every fiber of existence was created by G-d and therefore in some way reflects elements of the Divine “personality,” they are only “means.” But the Divine Image – the big picture – manifests in the human – the primary objective and end purpose of it all.

Rosh Hashana celebrates this Image.

So, what do G-d’s innermost thoughts look like?

They look like you and me. You are G-d’s expression of His innermost thoughts,

And what is G-d thinking about right now?

About you.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of myself as just a piece of ancient, evolved bacteria, I don’t feel that good about myself. It makes me feel cold and detached, from myself and from everyone around me. When I think that I look like G-d’s thoughts, engraved in His Image, it makes me feel warmer, more in touch – belonging, nurtured and embraced.

Now that we know what G-d’s thoughts look like, maybe it’s time to ask: What do our thoughts look like?

Imagine if you were able to access your deepest thoughts and then build something accordingly, what would it look like?

*   *   *

As we approach the New Year, I want to extend to you my personal blessings for a sweet and healthy year.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have sent me your kind wishes and blessings for the New Year. We are told that all those that bless, shall be blessed. May your blessings be fulfilled many times over in your life.

May you have a year of love and peace, a year of marriage and joy, a year of healthy children and nachas, a year of material and spiritual success, a year of health and wealth, a year of life with purpose. Those that need special blessings in health or other matters, may G-d see what you need and fulfill it in the fullest measure. Above all, may we all have a year of global peace and redemption.

 

 


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