Finding a Sense of Purpose

June 2017 Newsletter Article

In recent months, I have had the honor of teaching our B’nai Mitzvah class, our Confirmation class and our Post-Confirmation class. With each group of students I have offered the opportunity to reflect on the theme of “purpose”. What does it mean to become an adult Jew? What words of wisdom would you share with younger students in our religious school? What does it mean to “confirm” your identity as a Jew and how has community helped your vision grow? How do you hope to move forward in your Jewish lives with a sense of meaning and commitment? Our students have embraced the opportunity to reflect and they have offered different age-appropriate answers. In every case, their insights and observations and most of all their embrace of “purpose” is truly inspiring.

I believe that the questions of purpose and meaning are relevant to ALL of us, whatever our age and whatever our stage in life. If we could each mindfully ask ourselves these questions on a more regular basis, then our lives would be filled with a sense of value, self-worth and perhaps holiness. Our tradition teaches us that although we are each created B’zelem Elohim, in the image of God, we are not identical, drones thinking, feeling and living in the same manner. Each of us is also blessed with unique gifts, opportunities and way of being in the world. As we grow, mature and experience the full breadth of life, with its rigors, challenges, defeats, joys and successes, we are offered the opportunity to let these personal character traits unfold. Is this not what Oscar Wilde meant when he wrote, “Be Yourself—everyone else is already taken.” Perhaps Oscar Wilde knew of this teaching from the Talmud! There we read the story, “Before his death, Rabbi Zuzya said, “In the World to Come, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not like Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zuzya?’”
So how do we find a sense of purpose and direction in our lives and how can Torah and Jewish teachings be our guide? I offer this teaching from the Mishnah, “Rabbi Tarfon and some elders were reclining in an upper chamber in the house of Nitza in Lod when this question came up: Which is greater, study or action? Rabbi Tarfon spoke up and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva spoke up and said: Study is greater. The others then spoke up and said: Study is greater because it leads to action.” Just as I invited the students in our school to reflect personally, I invite all of us to reflect on the way we balance study and action in our lives and as members of a Jewish community. Our synagogue offers all of us the opportunity to pursue both study and action in a variety of ways: through our efforts in Tikkun Olam (which embraces both social action and social justice); through our opportunities to help our congregation grow in strength and mission; and through our many opportunities to study and learn. May you search for purpose and meaning by enriching your life with personal growth.
Since I have written about the value of learning from Jewish texts, I will end by sharing a text that challenges and inspires me personally.

“Ben Zoma says: Who is the wise one? He who learns from all men, as it says, “I have acquired understanding from all my teachers” (Psalms 119:99). Who is the mighty one? He who conquers his desire, as it says, “slowness to anger is better than a mighty person.” (Proverbs 16:32). Who is the rich one? He who is happy with his lot, as it says, “When you eat [from] the work of your hands, you will be happy, and it will be well with you” (Psalms 128:2). “You will be happy” in this world, and “it will be well with you” in the world to come. Who is honored? He who honors all created beings…”

I hope it inspires you as well. With warm regards,

Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry