Home September 2013 What Is Our Purpose?

What Is Our Purpose?

The prisoners could not understand  how Rabbi Mendel Futerfus kept an upbeat attitude in the remote desolate prison camp in far off Siberia.  Exiled by the Soviet government during Communist times, the life was arduous.   Even if prisoners could escape the prison itself, the chance of reaching freedom miles over the frozen tundra was impossible.  Still, he kept up his spirit, something that mystified the other prisoners.
“What is the key to your upbeat mood?” they asked.  Reb (as he was commonly known) Mendel responded, “What do you do for a living?”  One said he was an engineer, the other a writer, the third an architect.  Each lamented how their jobs gave them purpose in life, and now in the prison they had nothing.
Finally, he shared his secret: “My job as a Jew is to serve G-d.  It’s not any different, if I am in Moscow or the prison; my purpose is to learn Torah, to perform mitzvot.”
The question of why we are here and what is our purpose in life is the central theme of the High Holy Days.  Once a year we pause to take an account of our achievements and our goals.  The High Holy Days are the time for us to focus inward on these essential questions.  The most basic of all is “Why are we here in this world?”  Is it to just have a good time, or is there a deeper spiritual reason in our existence?  Are we supposed to just enjoy the moment, or is there a greater mission we have to accomplish?
This concept of a unique spiritual mission flies in the face of modern western thought.  We are told that we should mold our individual destiny according to our own desires.  This concept that we define our own Judaism rather than its being a mission from G-d has seeped into much of the Jewish community and influenced attitudes towards Judaism.  To Reb Mendel the answer was clear.  A Jew’s purpose is to connect with G-d and uplift the world.  The key to this is the Torah.  It provides us with the pathway to fulfill our mission.
An example of these diverse attitudes is how many people look at the mitzvah of charity – tzedakah.  To a Jew who recognizes that he is on a mission, money and wealth are a sacred trust.  He must provide nicely for his family, but he also has an obligation to support the community.  The more secular attitude is:  “It’s my money.  If I feel magnanimous, I will give some charity.”  That is why the word to describe charity in Judaism is “tzedakah,” justice.  Giving by those who have been uniquely blessed with wealth is doing justice for those who have not been so blessed.
As we sit in services on the High Holy Days, let us ponder for a while about the purpose of our existence.  Let the story of Chassidic Rabbi in Siberia give us some inspiration.
Rabbi Mendel Futerfus was jailed for helping the escape of Jews from Russia in 1947.  He left Russia in 1964, lived in England and later was the Maspiah – spritual mentor of the Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel.  Once a year he would visit the Chabad community in Long Beach.

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