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The Refinement of Purpose

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By Chony Milecki
MyLife Essay Contest 2017

 

The aim of this essay is to:

a) Present various approaches to purpose. b) Demonstrate that these approaches are a progression that can be applied both inter-generationally and within our personal lives. c) Demonstrate how to apply purpose to achieve success. d) Demonstrate that our era has a unique purpose that leads to unique success.

This will be done through an exploration of Chassidic sources as to why G-d created the world. By understanding the Divine intention in creation, we can apply that intention to our own lives and challenges.

The essay and its conclusions are based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Hemshech Podo B’Sholom 5659 (Ranat), and the Rebbe’s Maamar Bosi Legani 5711.

 

It is basic human instinct to strive for success. We all want to be the best parents we can be. We want to be the best in business. As musicians and artists, we strive to be on the cutting edge, always coming out with something new, something special. We try hard to improve our lives and become better versions of ourselves.

If that is the case, why is there such discontent in the world? Why do so many parents, workers, creatives and others feel they are not succeeding? Why do so many people feel unfulfilled and often downright unhappy?[1] Why – when we try so hard – do we not seem to see the results we anticipate?

One possible answer lies in the fact that we may be travelling the wrong road. As a culture, we are driven by success. It feeds us. But the success often feels fleeting because the basis for it is fleeting. The same way we will never be satisfied by praise given to us for something we do not truly value, success can never satisfy us unless it is based on ​purpose.

In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Victor Frankel states that our deepest yearning is for meaning. Meaning is intimately bound with purpose. When we shift our focus from ​success to ​purpose, we stand a much better chance of achieving its byproducts, success and joy.

In order to understand our ​personal purpose we need to first understand the ​ultimate Purpose. To do that, we need to start right at the beginning:

The Creation story is confusing. In fact, it seems downright unG-dly.

We think of G-d as a perfect being who can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, however He wants. We would expect G-d to create His universe in a momentary bang of miraculous manifestation. Yet the account of Creation reveals quite a different story: It happens slowly and methodically. There are many steps and pauses. It takes 168 hours[i][2] from beginning to end and there are daily quality control checks.[3]

If G-d is G-d, why didn’t He just snap His fingers and say “Let it be!”?

The Mishna[4] answers that if G-d had created the world with a single pronouncement, the Divine light within that universe would have been too great to allow for anything else. It would have resulted in a world so seamless, so harmonious, so perfect, there would be nothing for humanity to achieve.

By instead creating the world in a multi-step, multi-faceted process, G-d “kept some of Himself back” allowing confusion, disharmony and imperfection to seep between the cracks. Our purpose is to fill those cracks, repair creation and make it whole again.

And because we live in G-d’s Creation, the tools we use to repair it are the same tools by which we can manifest purpose and success in every area of our personal lives.

 

In the ​hemshech of ​Padah be’Shalom in Ranat , the Rebbe Rashab explores the role of humanity in G-d’s[5] creation. He offers two perspectives: One way of understanding our role is that we refine the world from the bottom-up, elevating it back to its original state. Another is that we draw Divinity into the limitations of a physical world top-down. Is the purpose of humanity to elevate the world to a wholesome state? Or is the purpose to draw wholesomeness into it. Or said differently: Does the world need to be ​Transformed or Perfected?

The perspective one adopts radically alters the way one approaches any challenge.

 

⬆ Ramaz: The Transformer ⬆

  • Mission​: The human mission is to ultimately transform evil to good.
  • Method: ​Bottom-Up – Elevate the mundane to the Divine.

A Transformer reaches a goal not by improving a situation, but by changing it. He tends to see the world in extremes, and is not afraid to fight for what is right even if he risks getting hurt. He is an innovator who is not tied to the constraints of a situation. He seeks new ideas and is unafraid of applying radical or unrelated solutions to solve a problem.

His spiritual path is ​בכל לבבך​״” ​ ​- “​a new you​”. He is not satisfied to subjugate his negative traits and[6] improve his life; he is intent on becoming a new person, one in which even his evil inclination assists in his achievement of purpose. He achieves this by transforming his life from one of selfish living to living in accordance with G-d’s command. He adopts the same attitude in repairing the world, by standing up to evil and transforming it to good.

 

⬇ Pardes: The Perfector ⬇

  • Mission​: The human mission is to make our finite world infinite
  • Method​: Top-Down – Draw the Divine into the mundane.

A Perfector finds success through progress. He reaches perfection through the unceasing development of a situation. The perfection is elusive because it’s never quite enough; he feels there’s always room for more. He is humble: he knows that he can’t achieve perfection on his own. Yet he is also confident: he isn’t afraid to ask for help, and his humility elicits generosity.

His spiritual path is  “​בכל נפשך​​” – “the best possible you​”. He is unceasing in his search for opportunities [7] to develop himself to perfection. He does his very best, but relies on G-d’s help. He humbly makes himself a vessel to receive G-d’s infinite light and blessing. He adopts the same attitude in perfecting the world by flooding it with goodness.

How can I apply the Transformer and Perfector approaches?

Love:
 – Transformer:​ Love is when you find someone who changes you. Look for a partner who is your opposite and helps you see things from a new perspective.
– Perfector​: Love is when you find someone who fulfills you. Look for a partner who broadens your personality and horizons.

Business​:
 – Transformer​: Business is centered on product. Create revolutionary products that change the way people live their lives.
– Perfector​: Business is centered on market. Take advantage of growing markets and changing trends to ensure growth year over year.

Music​:
– Transformer​: The core of music is its structure: Invent new scales, time-signatures and musical instruments.
– Perfector​: The core of music is its development: Compose new songs, and expand genre and symphony.

Addiction:
– Transformer​: The most important step is committing to change. Make an honest and firm commitment to fight until the end.
– Perfector​: Committing to change is an important step, but only opening yourself up to a Higher Power will give you the strength and wherewithal to succeed.

Chatas Ne’urim​:[8]
– Transformer​: Battle the impulse, install filters on your computer, aim for self-mastery.
– Perfector​: Broaden your life and personality with hobbies and other interests.

These two approaches do not have to be mutually exclusive. Although the Transformer and Perfector are two very different approaches, they can actually flow seamlessly from one to the next as stages of purpose:

Love​: Opposites attract, but attraction is not a foundation for a life together. Make sure this is a relationship that will allow you to grow.
Business​: A company built around the creation of revolutionary products is great. Now get these products into as many hands as possible … and make money.
Music​: Instruments, scales and harmony are the foundation of music. Now let’s make music!
Addiction, Chatas Ne’urim​: You’re fighting the good fight. Use your struggle as an opportunity of growth.

 

One can lead a very happy and purposeful life by following these two steps. There is no limit to what can be achieved using the Transformer or Perfector approach; in fact, you could spend many lifetimes on each.

But you’ll notice something about these two approaches. They are all subjective. Even selfish. What can I get out of my relationship? How can I heal or become a better person? How can I make more money? How can I get what I want or take advantage of a skill for my own maximum benefit?

Is that really the reason G-d created an imperfect world? That we should achieve personal harmony? That we should perfect a world He could have created perfectly in the first place? What did G-d need ​that for?

 

The Rebbe Rashab[9] introduces a third, completely different approach as to the purpose of creation.

Enter Midrash Shmuel[10]:

G-d could have created existence in an instant with a single pronouncement. Instead, He engrossed Himself like a loving artist on his seminal masterpiece making sure He expressed Himself accurately. He did so with ten step-by-step pronouncements that represented Him best, creating a world so personal, even He could live in it[11].

Then He stepped back, and disharmony crept in. Why did He step back? Because there was one last ingredient necessary for our world to be His home: He needed to feel welcome. The human effort to bring balance to creation would make it a suitable habitat for G-d.

It is a radical approach that changes the focus from repairing the world, to making it a G-dly habitat. The purpose of Creation is not to elevate it Bottom-Up, or to draw G-d’s light Top-Down. The purpose is to achieve Unity of G-d and Creation.

This brand new perspective presents us with a third step that fundamentally alters the way one achieves purpose:

๏  Midrash Shmuel​ – ​The Unifier ​

  • Mission​: The human mission is to make the world a G-dly habitat.
  • Method:​ Unity: Mundane and Divine united as One.

A Unifier is objective and broad-minded. He solves challenges by uncovering the commonality that unites a problem with its resolution. He sees conflict in terms of the resulting potential. He adopts a holistic approach that accounts for how an act will affect seemingly unrelated phenomena. He prioritizes taking decisive action over philosophizing it’s benefits and submits his personal benefit to the benefit of a homogenous whole.

His spiritual path is ״בכל מאדך״​  – “​it’s not about you​”. He relates to G-d on a most intimate level[12], because he is one with G-d. He identifies with the very real part of G-d that resides in his soul and achieves his aims not by doing what G-d wants, but by making himself a conduit of G-d’s will.

The Unifier doesn’t ask “What is my purpose”, but “What is THE purpose”.

 

How can I apply this perspective to everyday life?

Love​: Love your wife not because of what you get from the relationship, but because of what you can do for her[13].

Music​: Use your music as a tool to inspire others and change the world. Leverage your skill and[14] celebrity to bring people and ideas together.

Business​: Ensure that your company contributes to civilization. Make sure it improves the lives of the people who work there and creates a better world for people who will ​never even use your product.

Addiction​: Use your new sense of purpose and your sobriety to help others. Chatas Ne’urim​: Chatas ne’urim does not define you. If you fail, don’t take it so personally that it[15] inhibits you in other areas of improvement.

It’s not easy becoming a ​Unifier​.

A recovering addict risks a relapse when he gets into the trenches and helps addicts who are still in the throes of struggle. A musician whose passion switches from music to activism may lose his fans. A CEO who changes focus from ‘business as money-machine’ to ‘business as a tool’ risks losing money and the confidence of her shareholders.

But because the ​Unifier​ is driven by results instead of personal success, he is able to see the bigger picture and can take risks that impact his capital. This allows him to experience a level of growth unfathomable to the Transformer and Perfector.

Consider the following examples:

Love​: We tend to think of marriage as being an outgrowth of love rather than love being an outgrowth of marriage. For Unifiers, the latter is true. As a result, their relationships are built on an indestructible point. The foundation is stronger and the love is deeper, leading to eternal marriages that do not buckle under[16] the weight of personal expectations.

Addiction​: Step #12 in the Anonymous addiction recovery program is the Unifier method encapsulated: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried ​(a) to carry this message to other[17] addicts, and ​(b) to practice these principles in all our affairs. ” Studies show that recovering alcoholics[18] who help other alcoholics maintain sobriety are ​significantly less likely to relapse themselves.[19]

Business​: The drive​ ​and mission statement of some of the most successful modern companies today are not about making money, but about helping people. It is, arguably, this holistic approach employed in their infancy, that led to their success today. The success is so radical that ironically, many companies now try to imitate it by using it a holistic approach to improve their bottom lines.[20]

Music​: Musicians and actors nowadays are almost expected to use their music and celebrity to further a social agenda. The fans seem to love it to the point that a celebrity led cause will tend to get more donations.[21]

 

Stages of Purpose Inter-generationally

If you take a look at the seven generations of Chabad leaders, you will notice a fascinating trend. The chassidus of the first four Rebbes, beginning with the Alter Rebbe, had a Ramaz-like emphasis on self-improvement. ​How do I purify myself from evil? The fifth and sixth Rebbes, the Rashab, and the Rayatz, had a more Pardes-like approach–focusing instead on G-d’s influence on creation and humanity. ​How do I draw G-d into my life and into my world?

In the Maamar of Basi Legani, the first Maamar the Rebbe delivered upon assuming the mantle of leadership of the Chabad movement, the Rebbe posits that the role of our generation, the seventh from the Alter Rebbe, is to make Creation a habitat for G-d. He explains that there is a generational progression of purpose. As each goal is achieved another is introduced. Using the same illustrations as the Midrash Shmuel, he declares that our generation, the seventh generation, is tasked with the final step of purpose, namely, Uniting G-d and Creation.

This brings us to a revolutionary concept. If the tools to achieve purpose of creation are the same tools that help us reach success in our own lives, it follows that in our era there is a new way to achieve success and purpose. We can start, where our predecessors left off.

Indeed, look at almost any discipline and you will find an intergenerational progression. Extraordinarily, the discoveries and developments of the past are intuitive in the present.

Music​: Historically, music didn’t look anything like what we have today. Harmonic thirds and fifths that are today the foundation of almost every composition were only introduced in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The symphony had yet to be invented and the diverse genres we have today[22] were not developed. Yet today, any person with basic music ability can intuitively sing a style or harmony that the greatest minds of music could not fathom as recently as a millennia ago.

Technology​: An 18-month old child knows how to unlock an iPad and download a video. This child did not develop the technology, nor does she need to know how it works to manipulate it with her fingertips. In fifteen years from now, she may be writing code to develop a revolutionary program that transforms the world in a way the iPad inventors couldn’t dream of.

Torah​: G-d gave the Torah in its purest form on Mt. Sinai. For the next 3300 years rabbis developed the ideas of Torah in every dimension: law, philosophy, mysticism, chassidus. Today, a beginner can walk into a shiur and quickly grasp a deep chassidic concept, unfathomable to the greatest Torah minds of history.

Ahavas Yisroel​: Mitzvos can change inter-generationally too. Take the mitzva of “Love your[23] fellow as yourself”. The Rambam says that is impossible since we love ourselves innately; it means care of your fellow’s possessions as you care for your own. Then comes the Baal Shem Tov and[24] says it ​is possible, and literal! The Magid takes it a step further and says love the righteous and the wicked person equally, and the Alter Rebbe says love your fellow as yourself, because at the core we are all righteous.[25]

It’s amazing, and somewhat counter-intuitive. How do we achieve so easily today what our ancestors couldn’t accomplish in a lifetime?

Because the entire history of the universe, from creation until today, is connected in a single line of progressive refinement. The discoveries of yesterday become the building blocks of today. The achievements of our predecessors become ingrained into our very lives. The Transformers have transformed Creation. The Perfectors have developed Creation. We are now in the era of the Unifier. Our purpose is to take the creations and developments of the past to the Unifier stage.

This manifests even in the way the Unifer generation does a mitzva:

When doing a mitzva, the Unifer understands that it isn’t about what he did last night, or where he plans to be tomorrow. Because although it is essential that each individual achieve personal transformation and growth, the lack of it doesn’t impinge on the fact that right now, this minute, that individual stands on the shoulders of giants and can achieve a goal they could only pray for.[26]

By applying this Unifier approach of ultimate purpose, we achieve ultimate success in every possible facet or challenge in life. But here’s the crux: Even if you achieve all this – you live a homogenized life focused on helping others, doing mitzvos and improving the world — it’s still about you. No matter your selfless intentions, ​you are still at the center of your achievements. It’s ​your life. It’s ​your business. It’s ​your art. It’s your mitzva.

Unless you do if for G-d. To improve ​His world. To fulfill ​His purpose. To make ​Him at home in His creation.

That is true purpose. That is true love. That is true art. That is ultimate Transformation and Perfection.

Or in Chassidic terms: Dirah B’Tachtonim.

How is it done? The Rebbe provided the perfect model:

  • Turn your focus outward
  • Prioritize deed over talk
  • Find a shlichus in your environment
  • Find a shlichus outside your environment
  • Don’t let self-improvement overshadow world-improvement
  • Emphasize broadmindedness over insularity
  • Reveal common threads between vastly different ideas
  • Apply your learning
  • Find success by removing ego and being objective
  • Realize that conflict is a surface issue; dig honestly and you will always find unity
  • Love your fellow Jews and fellow humans by serving them unconditionally
  • Know that you can change the world
  • Do something daily to change the world
  • Be happy and confident because Hashem is in control

 

In short: Understand that​ it’s not about you, yet it’s ​all about you

 

The Rebbe understood that history and human achievement have delivered us to a climactic era. He understood that the rules of engagement have changed and that “through no choice or merit of our own”[27] we can be the ones to complete the revolution begun during those long days of creation. That was his life’s mission, and the mission that guides his Chassidim today.

It requires a radical mind shift. Everything changes: Your struggle, your relationships, your business, your art, your life, your world.

But in your success, you will find true purpose.

 

TABLE: THE STAGES OF PURPOSE

 

Footnotes and Sources

[1] The Harris Poll ® #50, July 8, 2016 – Happiness Index. Less than 1 in 3 Americans consider themselves very happy, and that number is sinking. http://www.theharrispoll.com/

[2] Each day of creation was literally 24 hours, of which 12 were work hours. See Likutei Sichos, v30, hosofos, Bereshis. Also, Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b.

[3] Bereishis ch. 1. At the end of each day G-d checks His work to make sure “it is good”.

[4] The question and answer are presented as follows in Mishna, Avos, Ch. 5, Mishna 1:  בעשרה מאמרות נברא העולם. ומה תלמוד לומר, והלא במאמר אחד יכול להבראות? אלא להיפרע מן הרשעים שמאבדין את העולם שנברא בעשרה מאמרות, וליתן שכר טוב לצדיקים שמקימין את העולם שנברא בעשרה מאמרות

[5] Rashab in 5659 (Ranat), Maamar Podo B’Sholom, and further elucidated by Rayatz in Maamar Podo B’Sholom, Tof-Shin-Daled, 5704

[6] Serving G-d with all your hearts – בכל לבבך = בשני יצרך, both your G-dly and animal inclinations. See Rashab 5656 Maamar Vayaatek Misham, ch. 4

[7] בכל נפשך – Serving G-d with your entire existence. See Rashab 5656 Maamar Vayaatek Misham, ch. 4.

[8] Challenges of masturbation or sexual abstinence.

[9]  Ranat, Hemshech Podo B’Sholom (ibid

[10] Written by Rabbi Shmuel ben Yitzchok de Uçeda (1545 – 1604); a kabbalist and student of the Arizal and Rabbi Chaim Vital

[11] Midrash Shmuel on Avos Ch. 5 as elucidated by Rashab in Ranat, Maamar Podo B’Sholom:

והלא במאמר אחד… והוא ספי׳ המלכות )שלמטא מהע״ס( ומ״מ נברא העולם בעשרה מאמרות דהיינו בע״ס עצמן והכוונה היה בכדי​

שיהיה גילוי אלקות בעולם, כי אם היה התהוות מבחי׳ מלכות לבד, לא היה מאיר בחינת גילוי אלקות בעולם. והצדיקים ע״ עבודתם בתומ״צ…תופס ממש בבחי׳ חכמתו ית׳… שהוא יחוד נפלא שאין כמוה…״

[12] “בכל מאדך”  – Service on a selfless level revealing one’s soul as a part of G-d’s essence. See Rashab 5656 Maamar Vayaatek Misham, ch. 4.

[13] See Maamar Lecho Dodi 13 Elul, 5714, for discussion of bride and groom as mashpia and mekabel

[14] ​Archaeologist Eli Shukron recently discovered a bell that hung on the robe of the High Priest. Muriel Selinger, an audio artist, works at Bellinson Hospital’s ICU. She delivers audio and visual content designed to reduce stress and anxiety and connect patients to reality. She heard of Shukron’s discovery and contacted him. She multiplied the frequency of the bell (B3 240 Hz frequency) by 72 (the number of bells at the bottom of the High Priest’s garment.) She found the sound of the bell to be particularly effective in helping her patients. Selinger’s work is a beautiful example of music and sound through the lens of the Unifier.

[15] The Rebbe’s advice of “Hesech Hadaas” roughly translates to “Don’t think about it”, but Daas in a chassidic context more accurately translates to “Don’t apply it”. I believe the Rebbe was advising the individual to take the “you” out of it. Not to deny the sin, but to train oneself to view it as a foreign entity that doesn’t represent one’s will or desire. And if a person would fail and commit sin, not to take it so personally that it overtakes one’s life.

[16] It is a traditional Jewish greeting to wish a bride and groom to build a בנין עדי עד

[17] ‘(a)’ and ‘(b)’ labels added

[18] 18 Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 12

[19] Chappel JN.. Working a program of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous, J Subst Abuse Treat , 1994, vol. 11 (pg. 99-104). And: Findings from project MATCH, J Stud Alcohol , 2004, vol. 65 (pg. 766-73)

[20] “Why socially responsible companies get more business”: https://tinyurl.com/jd2s76c

[21]“Celebrity Endorsements Lead to Increases in Charitable Donations from the Public”: https://tinyurl.com/zb66aaq

[22]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphony

[23] 23 From an interview with Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Kesselman: https://tinyurl.com/h8gj58e

[24]Sefer Hamitzvos, Mitzva #22

[25]Tanya ch. 32

[26]See Rebbe’s sicha, Lag B’omer, 5742: https://tinyurl.com/zeot8us

[27] Sefer Hamamorim, Bosi Legani, 10 Shvat, 5711, the Rebbe’s first address upon assuming leadership.

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