A number of years ago I used to travel regularly to Universities across the U.S to meet with Jewish students. The purpose of the trips was to organize classes and Shabbat retreats that would inspire and educate the next generation of Jews. Once, while visiting the University of Maryland I was asked by a student the following question: What is the goal of your life? What is it that you think about constantly? It was a great question that deserved an equally profound answer.
If you think about it, many people experience life as some variation of the following theme. From about the age of five you begin to go to school. As you get older you move on to elementary school then Middle School then High School. After all that, you hope that you get accepted to a good university. You get accepted somewhere and work hard so you can go to graduate school or so you can get a job and earn a living. Finally you graduate and get a job so you can earn money to support an independent lifestyle. You meet someone, fall in love and have a family. You try to earn enough money so that your children can go to a good school so that they can earn enough to support themselves and a family. Along the way you take some vacations, get a few facelifts, give a little charity, do some good deeds and volunteer for the PTA. You have family gatherings and a lovely Thanksgiving dinner. You drive a Toyota Camry and live in nice house somewhere in the suburbs. But what is it all about? What is the purpose of it all?
To truly live means to live in a manner that is not self centered but God centered. It means to live in a way that places an importance on trying to discover the Will of G-d. Whether it is the food we eat, the vacations we take, the money we earn, the schools we go to, the car we drive---there is one question that we must ask ourselves. What does God think? Nothing that we do should be empty of this consideration. It is not that God does not want us to enjoy ourselves. What He does want though, is for us to be mindful at all times that He is present and has high expectations of us.
God created a beautiful world and provided everything for us. God wants us to use (not abuse) the world and to enjoy the pleasures of the world in a way consistent with His Will. And here is the clincher: at the core, God’s Will and our will are one. That means that what we essentially want for ourselves is what God wants for us and vice versa. For instance, I may think that I want a luxury car, but really what I am seeking is the feeling acceptance, or maybe I seek security or maybe its inspiration I crave. God wants those things for us too, but has a better way to achieve those goals. Our job is to find that better way. To help us out, God provided us with the Torah, His Word. Living a God and Torah centered life is not about fulfilling a duty, it is about manifesting a desire. Our deepest desire.
In a classic Jewish philosophical work called “The Path of the Just” he argues that God created the world in order for us to attain pleasure. But he wasn’t talking about physical pleasure. That’s small stuff. He was talking about the mind-blowing, serenely intoxicating, spiritual pleasures that come from having deep connection to God. The purpose of our existence then is to have a meaningful relationship with God.