The Mission of Our Lives
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 or accomplishment.
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 and confident.
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 night.
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 be 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 his extension.
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 thinking.”
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 day.
So after all is said and done: Are you a matchmaker or a messenger?
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Question for the week: How would you define the mission of your life?