The Meaning of Life Based on Chassidus

By Chaim Shcherbina, Brooklyn, NY
Essays 2017

MyLife Essay Contest 2017

The issue I wish to address is very basic. Everyone asks themselves at one point or another, “Why was I born?” Sometimes this thought presents itself in other ways.  For example, “Why did G-d decide that I should wake up this morning,” or “What is the purpose of my life,” etc.  Unfortunately not everyone has a satisfactory answer to this provoking and challenging question. Depression or confusion can result.  At times this issue can send a person soul searching, though who knows where one will end up. Through the channels of Chassidus, the answer however is quite clear.  To clarify and better resolve this dilemma, I wish to present the concepts of Modeh Ani and Dirah B’Tachtonim.

I was once walking down the street at night. The streets were empty, and there was a cool breeze in the air. I looked upward and saw the clear dark sky. A question fell into my mind, the world is so large, there is so much happening out there, what would be if I just wasn’t here? G-d, why was I born? What is the purpose of my being? Will I forever just continue to walk the streets till I meet my end? What is the point?!

The truth is that I am not the only person who has asked himself this question. Perhaps every single human being, in one form or another, has asked this question. This question can lead one on a windy path to find the answer. The extreme case is when one does not have an answer and gives up looking for one. He concludes “life is meaningless.” This will affect the person in one of two ways 1) The world turns into one big party, because the only purpose of life is to enjoy it. “Have fun, do whatever you want. Who cares what the outcome is, life’s meaningless, of course.” or, 2) Depression. When one will start to ask himself, “So why does G-d force me to wake up in the morning?  What difference do I make, anyway?”

G-d forbid! as there can’t be anything further from the truth.

To explain this, we must precede with a more important question: What causes us to ask this question in the first place?

The reason we ask is because we do not see clearly. Were we to see G-d, there would be no questions. If we would clearly see how G-d’s Divine Providence is running the world in the most perfect way and that everything is measured exactly with no flaws, then we would never even dare to think such thoughts.

Yet, the reason we don’t see Him is as follows:

There are two causes for the concealment of G-dliness:

  1. The state of the world in general.
  2. The state of man in particular.
  • The state of the world in general:In the beginning of creation G-d’s presence was clear in the world. G-d put Adam, the first man, to a test. Adam failed. Upon committing a sin, he consequentially withdrewG-d’s revealed presence from the world. The following generation committed more sins, thereby again withdrawing G-d’s revealed presence from the world. Then seven righteous people, starting from Avraham Avinu and ending with Moshe Rabbeinu, brought backG-d’s revealed presence into the world1. This revelation manifested itself through the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. At that time G-d revealed His Glory to the entire Jewish nation. Unfortunately, shortly afterward, the sin of the golden calf occurred. Once again, G-d’s revelation was withdrawn from the world. The Jewish people repented, and G-d gave them another chance. “Build for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell amongst you.2”.G-d desired to be revealed in this world. The Jews built for G-d a house, the sanctuary/Mishkan. From there G-d’s presence shined outward, brightening the entire creation with His light. Then again, sin caused our downfall. Our sanctuary was destroyed, we were exiled, and the entire world was shrouded in spiritual darkness.This state of the darkness in the world is called Golus, exile. In Golus we are not able to perceive G-dliness.  As a result, having the ability to see G-d’s presence in our life becomes much harder to recognize.

From the above, we understand that G-d’s presence, though not clearly visible in the world, is not a proof that He is not there. On the contrary, He is very present; the problem is that we cannot see Him.

  • The state of man:The idea is explained in the Chassidic essay from the Alter Rebbe, first leader of the Chabad movement. In one of his works entitled, Torah Ohr. In the Torah portion of Mishpatim, the Alter Rebbe explains a principle called “Neshamos d’Atzilut                   v’ Neshamos d’Bia”h”, This refers to the souls from the world of Atzilut and souls from the worlds of Bia”h” (an acronym for the other three worlds, Briah, Yetzira, and Asiah). These are the four main worlds which stand as a diluting conduit between the unlimited light of G-d and finite human being.The first and highest world is Atzilus. In this world G-d’s presence stands as clear and as revealed as possible for a creation to comprehend. Then, there is a concealment of light penetrating the lower worlds, one concealment after another cover the unlimited G-dly light until our finite world can receive it, yet still be perceived as a physical realm.From these lofty worlds, the souls of Jews are created. G-d chooses from which world will come each soul. Some souls come from the loftiest world of Atzilut; some souls come from the lower worlds of Bia”h. In contrast to the souls originating from Bia”h, the souls of Atzilut have a very unique perception of G-dliness. G-dliness to them is a basic concept. They are able to clearly see G-d in their lives. However, explains the Alter Rebbe, most souls come from Bia”h.  Due to G-d’s concealment in Bia”h, most souls have a problem seeing G-d’s truth and reality in their lives.

From the Alter Rebbe’s words, we now understand that a normal person intrinsically doesn’t see G-d in his life. Only very lofty souls have an inherent perception of G-d. We also see from his words why when searching for G-dliness in our lives, we must turn to the Rebbe, the holy leader of the Jewish people who has a clear perception of G-dliness and helps us find ours.

Returning to our original issue, we can now better understand why so many of us question our purpose on this world.  Let’s go on to understand the answer:

I wish to introduce the concept of Modeh Ani Lefanocha, I acknowledge You. This is the beginning of the prayer which we recite upon awakening in the morning as soon as we open our eyes and thank G-d for returning our souls to us. Our Sages explain3 that when a person goes to sleep at night his G-dly soul leaves his body and ascends to the heavens where it stands before the supernal throne. There it is cleansed from its attachment to this lowly world. In the morning the soul is returned to the body of a person with new vitality. For this, we offer thanks to G-d, that He, in His benevolent mercy, decided to give us another chance to live.

Chassidus4 explains the hidden meaning of these few words. Modeh Ani Lefonecha, I acknowledge You. Who is “I”?  Who are you acknowledging? Why must you acknowledge Him? Why must this be said as soon as you wake up in the morning?

This ”I” who is speaking here refers to the essence of a Jew’s soul. The essence of a Jew calls out to G-d Himself and proclaims — I am Modeh to You; with my entire essence and being do I acknowledge You. I owe my entire existence to You. You are my King, and I am your servant– With this message, a Jew starts his day. This message is our motivation and our mission. We are here solely to serve G-d.

When G-d created the world He desired to have a dwelling place for Himself down here5. The point, however, is that we should be the ones to create this dwelling place. Whenever we do what G-d wants, we make this world into a dwelling place for Him. When we do a Mitzvah, we draw G-dliness down into this world, thereby making it fit for G-d.

As a parable, when someone desires to move into a new home, he wants to feel comfortable in his new dwelling. He buys the right furniture and places it exactly in the right place so that this new dwelling will become his own. The same applies to us creating a true home for G-d. For this world to be a fitting place for Him, we need to perform Mitzvos and bring G-d into our lives in any way possible. This thereby makes this world a fitting place for G-d.6

The challenge is having the perseverance to overcome the many stumbling blocks and distractions that come our way. We can lose track of our goal. We can get caught up in ourselves and everything around us.  We can forget that we are here only to make this world a fitting dwelling for G-d.  We need to go beyond ourselves and be focused on our mission.

With this in mind, we gain a new meaning to life. All of a sudden there is a reason for everything. We are here to make OUR lives into one which is fitting for G-d’s presence to be revealed and shine.

The final goal will only be fully accomplished with the coming of Moshiach, our righteous redeemer. When Moshiach comes the final Temple will be built. We will be able to observe Torah and Mitzvos properly, and serve G-d in the most complete way. As Maimonides7 rules in his Code of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah, “The main preoccupation of the world will be to know G-d as it says in Isaiah 11:9 -At that time the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as water covers the seas.” G-d’s presence will be revealed in the greatest possible matter, and he will finally have a dwelling place in this world.

In summary, the answer to this person’s dilemma is that there is a place for him in this world. We have a mission in this world to bring down G-d’s presence.  Each one of us is an integral part of this mission. Every single deed counts. G-d brought us down to this world for a reason. We need to live our lives, but make them into a dwelling place for The One Above.