What are we needed for? A Chassid once poured out his heart to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi about his many needs. The Rebbe replied, you told me everything you need, but you said not a word about what you are needed for. We often ask for the things we need, but life is much happier, satisfying, and meaningful, when we ask what we are needed for.
If we think of life as the story between birth and death, our only legitimate question is, what do we need? If we think of life as a historical continuum that began at Creation and continues ad infinitum, we see our lives as a small window of time. We arrived long after the saga began and will depart long before the saga will end if it ever will. The question then becomes, why was I placed here? What did G-d want me to do, and what did He equip me to do, for His world? In other words, what am I needed for?
A perfect G-d does not waste His resources. If He went to the effort of creating my body on earth, dispatching my soul from Heaven, and marrying the two for a number of decades, He must have had a reason—a purpose that needed filling for which He fingered me. My overarching mission must be to find that purpose and fulfill it.
Our purpose can be found somewhere along the arch of our opportunities and abilities. What are the needs in my community and how do they match up with my abilities? What can I contribute that others cannot? If I can’t find it easily, I must look deeper and more diligently. If I can’t find it in my community, I must seek it in other communities. Somewhere between my passions, talents, and the needs around me, I will find my purpose.
A Deed That Spans A Lifetime
It need not be grandiose or glorious. It can be even a simple gesture of kindness. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, taught that a soul can journey from Heaven and spend seventy to eighty years on earth, to do a single favor for a single Jew. Imagine that. My entire life boils down to a single Mitzvah.
Does this mean that the rest of my life lacks meaning? No, of course not. Since I don’t know precisely which Mitzvah it might be, I must dedicate myself to maximizing every Mitzvah opportunity. After all, it might be the sole reason for my soul and I don’t want to blow it. This means that my entire life is dedicated to picking up every Mitzvah opportunity in my path. This is not a meaningless life. It is a life filled and lived with meaning.
Does it diminish my meaning if my entire life can be reduced to a single Mitzvah? The answer is, once again, no, of course not.
Think of a mosaic. Every tile in the mosaic is critical to the entire picture. If one tile is missing, the mosaic is incomplete. To the average person, a single tile might not make a big difference, but to an artist, a single tile can spell the entire difference. Especially to the artist that created the mosaic.
Should the artist lose this one tile, he or she might spend decades searching for it. After all, the mosaic is his or her life’s mission. Suppose you came along and produce the single tile that completes the mosaic, in the eyes of the artist, the mosaic’s creator, you would be a hero. You would have saved the entire mosaic. To the artist, it is everything or nothing. If the mosaic is lacking even one tile, it is decidedly incomplete. You did not just find a tile. You created a mosaic.
G-d is the artist of the mosaic we call history. Throughout history, people came and went. Each generation was populated by people who filled in particular tiles of the mosaic. As the mosaic nears completion, history nears the end of all times. In Judaism, this is not seen as an apocalypse, but as euphoria. It will be a blissful time of peace, happiness, safety, health, and wellness. The closer we get to the end of the mosaic, the more critical each tile becomes. It can be the final tile that ushers in the Mashiach.
So, each of us is assigned a tile. Each of us is assigned a mission. It is what we are needed for. Everything that we need in life, serves the tile that we are needed for. If we utilize our opportunities, talents, and passions, to fill in our tile of the mosaic, we will have contributed to completion of the entire mosaic.
Considering that if we fail to fill in our tile, the mosaic will be incomplete, our contribution is greater than a single tile. It is the entire mosaic. It might not seem that way to us, but it certainly seems that way to the one Who sent us here, the one Who assigned us this mission, the one Who Created the world and the mosaic. From His perspective, the world cannot come to completion unless we fulfill our mission.
From this perspective, it matters not what image our tile holds. Whether it contains a single Mitzvah or a host of Mitzvos. Whether it is simply giving a poor person something he or she needs or saving the entire world. From the perspective of the mosaic’s Creator, every person is like a complete world. Every tile makes or breaks the entire mosaic.
Escapism Is Not an Option
In our Parsha we read of two very holy men who did not want to be tied down to this world and the divinely assigned purpose that they were needed for. Before birth, when our souls were in heaven, they were able to luxuriate in G-d’s beatific presence. However, on earth, where everything is filtered through the body’s finite portals, they were unable to even see G-d, let alone luxuriate with G-d. Their souls thus drove them to shuffle off the mortal coil and return G-d.
These men were Nadab and Abihu, the first two priests anointed by G-d to serve in the Tabernacle. They rushed into the holy of holies, knowing that the punishment would be death. But for these holy souls, it was better to die with a glimpse of G-d, than to spend a lifetime in His service.
Holy though they were, they were wrong. They might have needed to see G-d, but that is not what they were needed for. It was not why G-d needed them. If that were all G-d wanted from them, He would not have dispatched their souls to earth in the first place. G-d was not pleased with this despite the sanctity of their aspirations.
We can learn from this too. In life, there are many duties and obligations. Some of them are more stressful than others. When the stress grows too difficult to handle, many of us opt for our favorite form of escapism. For some it is alcohol or substance abuse. For others it is gambling or internet addictions. Others have more mild forms of escapism. Some binge on Netflix, others get lost in Social Media, and yet others procrastinate and indulge in hobbies, pastimes, etc. Some find all manner of alternate things that need doing before being forced to do what they find stressful.
The common denominator is that they are all ways to escape what we need to do. We feel that we need these escapes, but they offer a false sense of security and comfort. In the end, they drag us down, suck us in, and spit us out. The healthiest approach to the difficult tasks that life throws our way is to face them and embrace them no matter how difficult they are.
It might not feel like something we need. But it will be what we are needed for. In the end, doing what we are needed for is the healthier, better, holier, more meaningful, and more productive way to live. When we live for what we need, we run out of meaning quickly. When we feel needed, we feel important and meaningful. When our lives our meaningful, they are fulfilling and satisfying. This is the ultimate source of bliss.
Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.