Nothing can function without a specific mission
and purpose. Every business or other type of venture must
have a mission statement, defining its goals and objectives.
Without purpose there is no focus or efficiency, no accountability
Many if not most failures can be traced to a flawed point of departure: A
mission which is vague, generic or unrealistic. Sometimes the fault lies in
the tools, resources or execution. But very often the initial mission did
not consider all the factors necessary for implementation. If, for instance,
you set out on a mission to fly to Jupiter (unrealistic), or to create an
artificially intelligent robot (vague), or to write a successful adventure
novel (generic) – neglecting to spell out how you intend to succeed – such
a mission is mortally defective and is bound to fail.
Why then are we surprised when our lives are not working? When we are not
happy? When we feel anxious and fearful? When we wander about aimlessly and
feel ineffective? If a business cannot function without a mission statement,
how can we?
Nowhere is a mission more important than in our personal lives. Nothing is
more critical than to know why you are here; the purpose of your existence;
the mission of your life’s journey.
Armed with a sense of purpose, we feel we belong, we feel focused, driven
The first formal mission documented in the Torah is in this week’s Torah
portion: Abraham sending his servant Eliezer on a mission to find a wife for
his son Isaac.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains that Eliezer’s mission to join Isaac and Rebecca
reflects the general mission of each of our lives: To fuse matter and spirit,
body and soul into one seamless union.
Now the question is this: What type of messenger was Eliezer? Was he considered
Abraham’s emissary (a shliach), selflessly and absolutely dedicated
to the cause, as the Talmud states “shlucho shel odom ke’moso,” “a person’s
messenger is [considered to be] like the person [the initial sender] himself,”
merely an extension of the dispatcher. Or was Eliezer considered more like
a “shadchan,” a matchmaker, who also has his own agenda and interests (see
Tosafos Ketubot 7b).
These two options define two levels of commitment: 1) A hired gun, otherwise
known as a “matchmaker,” who is paid for his services. His loyalty to his
mission is commensurate to his compensation and personal gain. 2) A messenger
who is completely dedicated to his mission, with no strings attached.
Similar to the difference between and employee and an employer: A paid worker
will never be as dedicated as the boss. He will do his work faithfully during
working hours, but then he returns to his own life. Unlike the owner whose
thinks and dreams about his business not only “nine to five” but all day and
As a great Rebbe once said: A true soldier is a soldier even when he sleeps.
He is always on duty. When you are completely dedicated to your mission then
there is no room for any other agendas.
Therein lays perhaps the most important message in life.
Why are we here? Is it to serve yourself or to serve a higher cause? Sounds
like a simple choice. But think again. Most of us may feel that we should
serve a higher cause, but in reality we are usually fluctuating between following
our own needs and self-interests, with a bout here and there of volunteer
service or charity to a cause beyond ourselves. Some would argue that even
our giving has selfish interests in mind. But why be negative? Let’s give
people the benefit of the doubt, and allow them some forms of noble altruism.
However, even in the best scenario, service to a cause greater than the self
is usually intermingled, if not overtly outnumbered by the undercurrent of
self-interest that drives so much of our life activities.
So, we have before us the usual two options: Will you serve yourself, or
will you serve a higher cause? Most of us mix the two, with the former as
the dominant force.
But upon further consideration, the two choices are actually more intricate.
Even after accepting that your life is a mission to serve, you can either
be like a matchmaker or a messenger.
[Of course, there is also the option (if you can call it that) to live without
a deeper mission at all (or from time to time to dabble with the idea); to
be neither matchmaker nor messenger, and exclusively serve yourself. With
material success you can distract yourself and deceive yourself into thinking
that you are “on top of it,” even while your soul flounders about, living
from day to day, or making big plans that ultimately go nowhere. But that
“life choice” deserves its own discussion. Here we are assuming the axiom
of a life mission beyond material indulgence].
Says the Talmud: I was created for no other reason than to serve my Master.
This may the most freeing commitment you will ever make: I am here to serve
not myself but the Master – a cause greater than myself.
Think. If you were truly able to feel that way all the time, would there
be anything to fear?
Why then are we driven to serve our own needs? Explain the mystics that it
is because the “Master” has concealed His presence from us. Our own internal
missions, etched into the very DNA of our souls, are obscured amidst the chaos
of material existence. The superficial dominates over the real. We are consequentially
driven by existential insecurity, fear or other survival instincts, which
in turn feeds the “concealment” of our Divine connection and mission.
Part of the essential mission is this awareness and embracing the commitment
to battle the concealment, and dedicate our lives to a higher cause.
I was created for no other reason than to serve my Master. The ultimate
goal is to be like a messenger not like a matchmaker. A matchmaker is a dealmaker
bringing together two parties, and getting a cut for his efforts. He serves
a purpose, and quite often serves a greater cause, but he ultimately remains
an outsider, or at least reserves the right to do his own thing. He is donating
his services, retaining his right to fulfill his self-interest needs. A messenger,
by contrast, is completely dedicated to serve the mission, with no other agendas.
He is completely committed.
Some are like surgeons and others are like pilots. What is the difference
between them? When someone is in need of surgery, G-d forbid, he will be very
cautious and search around for the best possible surgeon. Why? Because his
life is at risk, and he wants to ensure that whoever is cutting him open is
the most qualified expert in performing this particular surgery.
Why then is it that when the same person books an airline flight, with all
the risks of air travel, he doesn’t go searching for the best pilot in the
world? The answer is because the pilot is flying together with you on the
airplane, and he is exposed to the same risk as the passenger. The surgeon,
on the other hand, is not lying on the slab with the patient. If the surgery
doesn’t go well, G-d forbid, the surgeon remains intact.
Matchmakers are like great surgeons. They can be excellent networkers and
shrewd business administrators. But they are ultimately ‘outsiders,’ not in
the ‘same boat’ with us. We will therefore search for the best surgeon. Messengers
are like pilots – they may not always be the best, but they are in it with
us. Our problem is their problem. Our celebration is their celebration.
As some non-profit leaders like to remind their donors: You may be a chicken
that donates an egg from time to time, but the chicken remains intact. But
I am like the cattle, whose very life is taken to serve a juicy steak. My
life is on the line.
In truth, a messenger in essence is also a paradox: On one hand he must be
an independent entity, with his own mind and heart. And at his own choosing
he decides to dedicate himself to serve the mission of the sender, thus becoming
Actually, in the legal (halachik) analysis of a messenger, the dedication
of the messenger consists of different levels: 1) “A person’s messenger is
like the messenger himself” means that the actions of the messenger
are considered an extension of the sender’s actions. 2) The power of his actions
is like the sender’s. 3) The messenger himself, his entire being, is an extension
of the sender.
The Tzemach Tzedek (1789-1866) would often travel to Petersburg,
the capital of Czarist Russia, on matters pertaining to the betterment of
Jewish life in Russia.
Once, the Tzemach Tzedek was unable to attend an important meeting, and instead
he sent one of his loyal Chassidim. Before embarking on his journey the Chassid
asked the Tzemach Tzedek: “What do I do if I have a doubt how to resolve a
particular issue?” The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “Follow your own thinking.”
Rabbi Shmuel, the Tzemach Tzedek’s youngest son, was present during this
conversation. When he heard his father say “follow your own thinking” he thought
to himself that the Chassid was “missing” some bittul (selflessness)
in his dedication (hiskashrut) to the Rebbe. Hence, he has his “own
Soon later, while sitting at the table with his family, everyone noticed
a sudden change in the Tzemach Tzedek’s demeanor. The Rebbe was clearly sensing
something. “Er mattert zich in Peterburg” (the Chassid is struggling with
a particular dilemma in his dealings in Petersburg),
said the Tzemach Tzedek. A few moments passed, and the Tzemach Tzedek smiled.
“Gut, gut,” he said, “er hot mechaven geven” – good, good. He resolved the
issue exactly as I would have.
Reb Shmuel finally understood that contrary to his initial thought, the Chassid
was actually far more committed and connected to the Rebbe.
True dedication is not when you don’t have the independence to think on your
own. That is called a puppet or a fool. Ultimate commitment is when an independent
thinker chooses to dedicate himself to a cause greater than himself, to be
a messenger of a truth higher than himself, and in effect, becomes an extension,
a channel of that higher truth.
Eliezer servant of Abraham could have been a matchmaker.
But he ends up being a messenger: completely dedicated to
his master’s will to bring Rebecca and Isaac together,
with no other agenda. As a result, Isaac and Rebecca build
a life together – a life that would shape the future
of the entire world. They would give birth to Jacob and
Esau, and perpetuate the legacy of Abraham – laying
the seeds for all the generations to follow till this very
So after all is said and done: Are you a matchmaker or
* * *
Question for the week: How would you
define the mission of your life?
a question for future weeks.