The other day Justin Bieber turned 18. In the spirit of understatement, his manager presented him with an electric car worth $100,000.
I have nothing against electric cars. They’re eco-friendly and nice to look at. I don’t even have a problem with someone spending a tenth of a million dollars on a car. If you’ve got the money (left over after tzedakah, of course), go right ahead. But, I can’t help but wonder about young Justin receiving a gift like this at the ripe old age of 18. In this world of the Newer-Better-Faster version, there is always something else to accumulate. But when you’re getting the best of the best at such a young age, what is there to look forward to?
This is one of the questions I began asking myself almost a decade ago. A product of an upper-middle-class, secular Jewish family, I had everything I wanted, when I wanted it. There was no saving up for something or working to earn it; I needed but ask and it was mine. Those clothes I was sooooo excited about in the store would be balled up and strewn all over the floor in a matter of days (sometimes hours), while I complained to my mother I had nothing to wear. Our vacations to Mexico and Turkey were “boring”. Out of my hundreds of CDs and DVDs, there was, apparently, not one worth listening to or watching. I could buy, do and have whatever I wanted, but eventually it all just felt empty and sour, like the extra bite of dessert after you’re already stuffed.
I had everything; why wasn’t it enough? I was always unhappy, always looking for The Next New Thing. But what was the point of racing with everyone to get the most stuff if it wasn’t going to bring me the satisfaction I craved? Sure, I’d be thrilled with the victory of a new purchase, but it always faded eventually, replaced by the need to start chasing again.
This, I learned later, is the nature of the material world: it’s all temporary. Everything in front of us exists, but not forever. This is why we eat and are satisfied, but are hungry again only a few hours later. This is why we buy the newest shiny toy and enjoy it for a while, but as soon as version 5G comes out, we absolutely have to have it. Even our bodies expire; despite hours of exercise, eating right and the millions of dollars we spend on cosmetics and plastic surgeries, we will all die one day, and our bodies will turn into dust.
On the other hand, the nature of spirituality is permanence. Real truth is everlasting, and that is what our souls long for. We are here to connect with the eternal, to find that sense of completion by connecting with what’s real. If our consciousness remains solely in the material world, we will always be jumping from one thing to the next, terminally unsatisfied. But, if we focus on the spiritual life behind the material world and build our values based on truth, we can experience long-lasting peace and direction until our journey here is done.
It’s very possible that Mr. Bieber knows this and politely thanked his manager before donating his fancy new ride to a charity. But in case he opts not to do that, I hope he can at least appreciate the value of what he has, not just monetarily, but in the grander scheme of things. At the end of the day, Justin is just another 18-year-old kid with plenty of lessons to learn. I just hope he doesn’t have to learn them the hard way.