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Home » Israel

Living with Purpose

Submitted by on March 16, 2008 – 2:13 amNo Comment | 2,398 views

On Thursday, February 28, 2008, men and women from all walks of life were shaken to the core by the heinous murder of eight innocent men as they poured over sacred tomes in a Jerusalem seminary. Their tragic death was eulogized by communities the world over, who were horrified by the sheer cruelty of the attack. These innocent souls were cut down in their prime before they had opportunity to embrace life. These precious souls were devoted to the highest cause when their souls were viciously snatched and returned to the lap of G-d. The sheer horror of this murder overwhelms us as we wrestle with the question of why. We cannot imagine what impels a human being to perpetrate such horrible acts of wanton terrorism.

Rather than focus on the tragedy of their death I choose to focus on the beauty of their lives for they lived by the highest ideals known to humankind. That their lives came to a sudden end as their minds were engaged in the sacred pursuit of G-d’s Torah is an incredible merit from which we take solace. Their souls returned on high while their minds were attached on high. How often do people realize their most important goals on their dying day?

Jewish tradition encourages us to view death through the prism of life. Ànd the living shall take heart` wrote King Solomon. (1)We must find ways to inspire our lives through the lessons we take from those who have passed on.
Our days are consumed by trivial tasks and miniature goals; deadlines to meet, projects to complete and goals to reach. The standard by which we measure our success is the efficiency by which we manage the tasks of our day, but how often do we pause to contemplate the overarching goals into which our daily goals are supposed to fit? It occurs to me that if we ask ourselves how we want to be eulogized in death we will quickly discover the overarching goals of life. If we ask ourselves how we want to be remembered in death we will quickly discover what is truly meaningful in life.

In his book, ”The Seven Habits of Highly effective People,” Stephen R. Covey comments that therein lies the difference between managing and leading. Managers ensure that we “do things right,” whereas leaders ensure that we “do the right things.” Imagine a group of laborors hacking through a field. The leader climbs a tree and discovers they are in the wrong field. He shouts down from his perch, “Hey, we are in the wrong field,” the manager replies, “Don`t interrupt, we are making progress.” (2)

This is a regular occurrence in life. We are so often caught up in the minutia of daily progress that we neglect the overall picture. Our days are productive, but are they producing the desired results? It is important to pause from time to time and consider whether we are satisfied with the direction of our lives. Otherwise, we risk leading a perfect journey, but to the wrong destination.

The story is told of a young lad, who left the path of Jewish observance. The lad visited Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal Hatanya and founder of Chabad Chasisdism. The Rebbe, knowing that the lad was fond of horses, asked him to explain his penchant for horses. The lad replied that horses enable their riders to reach their destinations quickly. The Rebbe countered with a question, what happens if you make a wrong turn, won`t you make rapid progress in the wrong direction? After a pause, the lad replied, when I realize that I have erred I can make up for my lost time very quickly. The lad understood the implication of the Rebbe`s words and returned to the path of observance.

Every so often it behooves us to consider whether the direction on which we have embarked is correct for us. We must ensure that our chosen path is shaped by eternal values rather than passing societal mores. Once our paths are chosen, its overarching goals should become the standard by which we measure the tasks and goals of our daily lives. Every goal that does not fit into the overall scheme is a distraction. Distractions are often necessary, but its benefits must be carefully weighed. I would hate to leave the fulfilment of my most meaningful goals to the proverbial tomorrow, only to run out of tomorrows. I don`t want my grave marker to read, Here lies a man who died one moment too soon and never realized his most important goals.

I want to return my soul to G-d in the knowledge that I have made every effort to fulfill the mission He has allocated to me. I want to be able to declare upon my demise, “I have lived my life thinking of you.”` I would love to live for the study of Torah and die with a book in my hands.

I don`t know when my time will come, but now is as good a time as any to focus on these questions. As the great sage Hilel said, `”if not now, then when? “ (3) We never know when we will die; it might be tomorrow and it might (G-d willing) be many decades from now. Our sages cautioned us to live every day as if it is our last. (4) If this was indeed my last day I would consider my overarching goals with more urgency. Every day is as crucial as our last; if we want to influence the text of our eulogy then we must begin to live as if our eulogy is being written today.

The eight victims of cold terror reached the pinnacle of spiritual achievement. They died with the words of G-d upon their lips; they ascended with thoughts of G-d in their minds and the music of Torah in their hearts. This sublime achievement transcends the tragedy and inspires us to do the same. In our resolve, may our people find comfort. In our commitment, may the families find consolation. In our merit, may our nation be redeemed and may we live in peace and security on our holy land.

Footnotes

  1. Ecclesiastes 7:2.
  2. p. 101, `Stephen R. Covey, Simon & Schuster NY, 1989
  3. Ethics of our fathers 1:14.
  4. Ethics of our fathers 2:10.