IT’S THE TIME of year when we review our achievements of the past twelve months, ponder areas that need improvement and set a course for the new year. As the High Holidays draw near I think about an enigmatic passage in the Talmud that describes the questions asked to a person’s soul when it reaches the heavenly court.
The Talmud teaches that four questions are posed: Did you conduct your business faithfully? Did you set aside times for the study of Torah? Did you fulfill the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying—in other words, did you have a family? And finally, did you yearn for the Moshiach—the Messiah?
These questions reach into the very core of our purpose in life. Are we honest? Did we make an effort to enrich ourselves intellectually with the wealth of Jewish learning? Did we see the value in loving and caring for others by building a family, and finally, did we recognize the fact that there is a “divine plan” for the world with the ultimate goal of welcoming Moshiach and ushering in an era of peace and sanctity?
There is also a deeper perspective on the first question. Not only is the issue acting faithfully to others, but also about acting faithfully with ourselves. In other words, we are asked if we reached our potential. So many of us tell ourselves that there are things we can do and things we can’t—which many times means we won’t do. The Torah teaches that we are each given unique gifts: one person is blessed with the ability to sing, another to act as a legal advocate, another to write. The reason for our existence in this world is to use these divine gifts to bring sanctity and purpose into the world. If we don’t challenge ourselves we are falling short.
It’s commonly thought that Rosh Hashanah marks the creation of the world, but Jewish tradition asserts instead that it marks the sixth day of creation, the day that G-d formed the first human, Adam. G-d could have easily chosen to create many human beings but instead chose to fashion just one. This teaches us that each person is unique, each person has great potential, and each person has the ability to make a profound difference in this world.
The High Holidays should prompt us to evaluate if we are using those special gifts that have been bestowed on us from Above. It’s easy to sit on the couch and vegetate, but the goal of our lives, and what we’ll be asked about when we complete it, is to reach our potential and use it to change the world for the good.
Fortunately, we were given a manual for how to do it. The Torah is our guide, where we turn when we encounter moral quandaries. Life is far from black and white and navigating it is not easy, but the Torah is the lighthouse that provides us with direction, challenging us to reach our potential and make the right choices.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.