The Chassidic Keys to Finding our Individual Purpose
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
Everyone is on a quest; the search to find out why exactly they inhabit this Earth and what they are meant to accomplish here. Experiences, such as gap years, mid-life crises, and “eat, pray, love” journeys, have become so common place in society, just proving that the yearning of most is to find their purpose in life. Modern day psychology acknowledges this self-actualization as the highest level of human need 1. Acknowledging the need of a purpose in life is the simple part, identifying the specific mission is more complex. However, through the teachings of Chassidus, a person can be clearly guided through their quest of finding their purpose.
Where Does the Longing For Purpose Come From?
In order to discover our purpose in life, we must first identify where the longing for purpose stems from. It is crucial to validate the source for this longing in order to understand the magnitude and importance of the purpose itself. The Alter Rebbe explains that every single Jew is comprised of the same metaphysical anatomy, an animal soul and a G-dly soul. The animal soul is self-centered in nature; it strives to achieve pleasure for the “I” within the person. The Gdly soul is “truly a part of G‑ d above”2. The literal piece of G-d within each Jew is the driving force behind the need to accomplish something greater than oneself because in its essence; this soul is a piece of something much greater than itself. This soul understands that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts so it is constantly striving to fulfill its own part in order to bring the whole of the Jewish people to complete G-d’s ultimate mission.
What is the Ultimate Mission?
In every society there are benchmarks and goals to reach. For example, in secular societies, children are expected to finish school, graduate from college, get a good paying job, get married and start a family. There is a clear journey but no defined destination. Following steps laid out for us only to reach a dead-end is disappointing and unsatisfying. The Jewish approach to fulfillment is the exact opposite. Hashem gave the Jewish people the destination and He leaves the journey up to each individual. This journey is our unique purpose in life. The innermost longing of our Creator and the ultimate destination of the Jewish people is to be able to create a world in the lower realms that G-d can dwell within completely comfortably 3. The maamer Basi Legani explains that Hashem’s initial presence was in our world. This is conveyed when the lower worlds are referred to as “Legani”, my garden, instead of “Legan”, the garden. This specific diction shows Hashem’s familiarity and possession of our world, because it was His initial dwelling place. G-d lets the Jewish people know that He just wants to return home and it is up to us to get Him there.
Steps to Identifying Our Unique Purpose
First, it is important to emphasize that “all souls in their quintessence are whole and complete. They differ from one another only in the areas and the ways in which their soul powers manifest themselves. Within this context, distinctions of essential character traits do exist among people, among adults as well as children”4. Knowing that every Jewish soul is different, and yet the same, gives a hint towards where to look for our purpose. Since every soul brought down into the world has its own unique mission to accomplish, we must look at the differences amongst souls in order to identify why the unique neshama was brought down. Focusing on the similarities is unnecessary in this context because it would lead to individual missions that are exactly the same.
To focus on the differences in order to identify one’s purpose one should:
1) identify their strengths,
2) identify their weaknesses, and
3) act with these strengths and weaknesses in order to accomplish their mission.
The outlined steps will help a person find clues towards solving the universal mystery of
their specific purpose in this world.
1) Identify Our Strengths
Chassidic teachings place great emphasis on the importance of individual strengths. In a Chassidic discourse titled The Principles of Education and Guidance, the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe goes into great detail about the best way to educate a child. One of the Rebbe’s main points of the talk is to identify the child’s “inborn abilities and natural virtues”4 through assessing “a pupil’s essential character […] After doing so, a teacher can frame the concept in a way that the student will be able to grasp it… Through this systematic instruction, a teacher will succeed, not only in assuring the student’s clear understanding of the material, but also in engendering the development of the student’s abilities and aptitude”4. The Rebbe places such great emphasis on a student’s unique and distinguishing qualities, so much so, that he says a teacher should adjust to the student’s taste. Correspondingly, G-d has tailored our unique paths and purpose in life to the certain strengths and natural affinities He has given us. Since an individual strength is a way that the soul manifests itself, a distinguishing strength is a hint towards one’s mission in life, as G-d would not grant us something to go to waste. On the contrary, Hashem wants us to use this specific talent in order to fulfill our unique divine service. For example, a person may be a natural-born artist. That person can tailor their strength towards revealing G-dliness by illustrating a Jewish children’s book that would spread knowledge of Torah and mitzvot to hundreds and thousands of children.
2) Identify Our Weaknesses
Every normal person struggles. Isn’t that refreshing! The Tanya, the cornerstone book of Chabad philosophy, explains that there are three types of Jews in the world. A Rasha is someone who’s animal soul and G-dly soul are constantly at battle and it is unclear who will win. Sometimes the animal soul may prevail and at other times the G-dly soul may be victorious. A Beinoni also has an internal struggle between the animal soul and G-dly soul but although there is a conflict, the G-dly soul wins 100% of the time. A Tzaddik is a unique being with no animal soul, therefore they never struggle because their G-dly soul is always in control. Another name for the Tanya is the Sefer Shel Beinoni, Book of the Beinoni, because it is the guidebook for a Rasha to transform themselves into a Beinoni. This implies that the Alter Rebbe, the author of the Tanya, holds a Beinoni in very high esteem. He writes an entire philosophy of how to attain this lofty level. He does not name the book the Sefer Shel Tzaddik, Book of the Tzaddik, because this is not attainable nor realistic. In other words, having absolutely no struggle is impossible for the average human. Therefore, the Alter Rebbe states that “one should not feel depressed or very troubled at heart, even if he be engaged all his days in this conflict with the thoughts which will always enter his mind. For perhaps this is what he was created for, and this is the service demanded of him.”5. The Alter Rebbe gives a clear indication that our purpose in life lies within our deepest struggle. For example, if a game of bowling had two options, either you have the choice of throwing the bowling ball yourself across the entire lane, gutter balls included, until you get your own strike or using a perfectly lined path that led to a strike every single time, which game would be more rewarding? A perfectly outlined journey with no toil involved leads to feelings of dissatisfaction even if you have technically reached the destination. Our Sages teach us that, “according to the pain is the reward”6. Therefore, even if we had a clearly outlined purpose, or destination, it would not accomplish what G-d wants from us. It is the journey and the struggle which holds all the value. Identifying a weakness or reoccurring struggle should be a
spring board for a person to realize what they are meant to be doing in this world.
3) Use the knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses to do action
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe constantly emphasized, “hama’aseh hu ha’ikkar – action, actual doing, is the essential thing!” While it is necessary to do the first two steps of identifying our strengths and weaknesses, without acting on this knowledge the initial steps are counterproductive. Since the purpose of all creation is to transform this physical world we inhabit into a place where G-d can reside comfortably, the actions the Rebbe speaks of are deeds that would help accomplish this purpose. Hashem has been wrongfully evicted from his home and it is our job to move his furniture back in so that when He returns it will be as if He had never left. Moving this furniture back into the home is exposing the G-dliness within all that is mundane and saturating the world with Him, like the book illustration example discussed previously. This is how we make a dwelling place for Hashem in this world because the more He is revealed, the more He will reveal Himself. G-d has created each individual with specific strengths and weaknesses to bring them towards the action that they must accomplish in order for the entire house to be brought back to its original state. King David emphasizes this point when he writes, “the steps of man are directed by G‑ d”.7 Equally important is the notion that one person alone cannot return the home to order. We need the strong person to lift the furniture and the tall person to hang the pictures. In the Amidah prayer, Jews say the “G‑d of Abraham, G‑d of Isaac, and G‑d of Jacob,” but is this not all the same G-d? The reason the verse is not combined to say, “G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” is to convey that Hashem gave each of our forefathers their specific strengths and weaknesses which brought them to accomplish their mission for the whole of the Jewish people 8. Each of the fathers had their own purpose to accomplish and they could not rely on their predecessor or descendent to do their mission for them. Every person is uniquely necessary and at any given moment, a single person can do the last task to complete the home for G-d. Just as the Rambam explains, “one should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good – he and the world is saved.”9.
Hashem’s home is almost fully furnished and just needs a few final touches before we can welcome Him back in again. He has provided us with clues in the world and within ourselves as to how He would like His home to be. In order to accomplish the general mission of the world, we must do our part by accomplishing our personal purpose. We can find our exclusive function within the grand scheme by identifying our strengths, identifying our weaknesses, and using our G-d given strengths and weaknesses to bring us to action and ultimately accomplishing our purpose in life. L’chaim! We should all be blessed to find and fulfill our distinct purpose so we can dwell with Hashem in His original home soon!
Sources and Footnotes
1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
2. Tanya Chapter 2
3. Tanchuma, Nasso 16. Bamidbar Rabah 13:6
4. Prinicples of Education and Guidance Maamer by the Friedekre Rebbe, The Third Provision: Perception of a Pupil’s Character and Situation
5. Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 27
6. Pirkei Avos Chapter 5, Mishna 21
7. Psalms 37:23
8. Chassidic Dimensions by Immanuel Schochet, Lamplighters: The Philosophy of Lubavitch Activism Section, The Rebbe: A Soul Geologist