Knowing Your Life Matters
On Rosh Hashanah, identify your unique mission and responsibility to live a life filled with purpose.
As we approach the Jewish New Year, we need to focus on why our lives matter, as an urgent wake-up call to our responsibility to live a life filled with meaning and purpose.
There is a story I heard some years back which resonated with me in a way I believe changed my life.
Shmuel Tamir was a minister in Israel at the time when Menachem Begin was Prime Minister. Many years earlier, when Israel was going through a period of severe economic difficulty, Tamir felt it was his prerogative to speak to one of the preeminent sages of Jerusalem, the legendary Reb Aryeh Levin, widely known and respected for his compassion, to enlist his support for a religious ruling, even though Tamir was not personally observant.
Tamir felt that Israel’s difficult economy many couples simply could not afford to properly take care of the needs of a growing family. He argued with the Rabbi to agree to allow abortions for some of his followers.
Rabbi Levin paused for but a moment before he responded:
I find it very interesting that you’ve come to me with this question because years ago I was faced with a very similar predicament. A young couple came to me. They were students with one child, a little girl, and they had just found out that another was on the way. Their financial situation was desperate. They saw no way to cope with the costs of another mouth to feed. They too begged me to consider granting them permission to end the life of the fetus.
I explained to them that although I understood with all of my heart that it would not be easy, there were three reasons why they needed to go through with the pregnancy and allow their child to be born. The first was the firm conviction that God who gives life can be trusted to sustain it. God assures us that He stretches forth His hand and supports all of His children. You may be confident that your child is also His child - and his Father will never forsake him.
The second reason for my decision is your legal responsibility. You already have one child, a girl, but Jewish law requires that you strive to fulfill the biblical commandment of “be fruitful and multiply” with a boy as well.
But the third reason for my refusal to allow you to abort is perhaps the most important. You are pregnant – and within you there already exists a holy soul with a mission. Like every one of us here on earth, a soul has a purpose which the world needs or else it would not have been created. Don’t prevent the fulfillment of your child’s mission, for its sake and for the sake of all mankind.
Tamir, disappointed by the rabbi’s refusal to accede to his request, asked, “And did they listen to you and did they have the child?”
Rabbi Levin answered, “Yes, they had a boy.”
“And,” Tamir followed almost sarcastically, “did the boy fulfill his mission in life?”
Rabbi Levin responded, “This you will have to answer. The people who came to me those many years ago were your parents and you are standing before me today only because they chose to follow my ruling. So, indeed, let me ask you now – did you fulfill your mission?”
God placed us here because our lives matter – to us and the entire world.
It was a startling dénouement to an amazing story that highlights an ultimate question relevant to every one of us as we contemplate our own lives and the reason for our continued presence here on earth.
God placed us here because our lives matter. They matter not just to us. Our lives are meant to matter to the world as well. We are all Divine messengers with a mission. And in the ultimate sense, our lives matter to God. He put us here, so obviously we have a purpose. The journey of our lives is to seek out our mission – and then strive to hopefully fulfill it.
Our mission can revolve around many things. It can be concentrated around our families, our loved ones and our people, our careers and professions, our talents and Divinely-given gifts which make us unique and allow us to do the things no one else could or would ever do – and without which the world would be so much poorer.
On the High Holy Days we turn to God and pray for life. We need to spend some time identifying our unique mission in order to fulfill our purpose. Continuing to make our lives matter is our guarantee that we will be granted ever more opportunities to fulfill our mission. This Rosh Hashanah, may we live up to that challenge. Shana tova.