There wasn’t one reference to career aspirations or the college of their dreams. like you would expect at a graduation. Nor did they make a list of political goals as noble as they may be. Recently, my granddaughter graduated middle school at the Hebrew Academy and each of the students gave a short talk. It was enlightening to see what was on the minds of the teenage graduates.
The ideas that resonated were classical principles of Jewish thought and practice: The need for hakarat hatov, to acknowledge the good that others do for you; the responsibility to study Torah and become knowledgeable in the depth of Jewish learning; the realization that life’s challenges are by Divine Providence and are meant to challenge you to become a better person. To act with Chessed—kindness to others. It was striking to see the underlying theme, in talk after talk. It wasn’t about their academic or professional goals but rather about how they should treat others, fill their lives with purpose, and what Judaism expects of them in their goal to become better human beings.
While teenagers around the world are planning their careers and dreaming of the college they want to attend, the graduates of the Hebrew Academy seem to have a much deeper sense of purpose. It wasn’t about them but about what they can contribute to the world around them.
We live in a world infatuated with individual rights and we are quick to claim them. Judaism is a religion of responsibility, not about what we are entitled to get but what we are going to contribute.
Like the Chasid who came to his Rebbe, his spiritual mentor, with a long list of things that he needed a blessing for. For most Chasidim, a private audience with one’s Rebbe is an opportunity to seek spiritual advice, inspiration and blessing. This particular Chasid came with questions about business, advice for seeking a husband for his daughter, and good health. He presented the list to the Rebbe expecting direction in each of these challenges. The Rebbe was silent for a while, and finally said, “Your question should not be about what you need, but rather what are you needed for.”
Today we think of education as a pathway to a career and financial success. The Jewish view is that education is about molding a person to become a human being whose life is filled with purpose, sanctity and kindness. Modern secular education focuses more on the acquisition of knowledge and less on being a wholesome person. As I listened to the graduates of the Hebrew Academy speak of their goals of living a life with spiritual purpose, I wondered what other teens their age were talking about at their graduations.
RABBI DAVID ELIEZRIE is senior rabbi at Chabad-Beth Meir HaCohen. His email is email@example.com