If you ask someone: Are you eating to live, or living to eat? Of course they'll tell you they're eating to live.
Now ask them: What are you living for? They won't always have a good answer, but at least you made them think about what they're doing in life. Unfortunately the majority of humanity is very busy doing and accomplishing, but they don't know for what.
Everyone has instances in life where something wakes them up and they're confronted by the question: "What has my life been all about up till now?" Momentarily they may be scared. But all too often, rather than trying to answer the question, the person escapes by turning on the TV or grabbing a newspaper.
A man I know in Jerusalem was accidentally shot, and as a result became a paraplegic. While lying in the hospital, he was faced with this question: "What is life all about? What am I living for?" Today he will tell you that God did him a great favor by paralyzing him; otherwise he may have gone through his entire life without ever asking this fundamental and crucial question.
Asking the Question
If the doctor told us we only had six months to live, we'd ask ourselves "What's life all about?" Think about it. Some day we'll only have six months to live, but then it may be too late to consider the question. So we have to start asking ourselves now.
We are very fortunate because through the Torah, God has told us what we're here for. Ultimately what we want in life is to love God. What we have to do is get in touch with this desire of our souls and then plan how to attain that love. We say this in the Shema twice daily (and it's written in the mezuzah): "To know that God is One, and to love Him with everything we have."
Use your mind to clarify if this is what you really want. If it is, then ask, "What am I doing to attain it?"
This is the process a Jew goes through on Rosh Hashana: "What am I living for?" and "What am I doing to attain it?" If we do this we're guaranteed greatness.
The biggest individual fence against wasting your life is Cheshbon Hanefesh ― Spiritual Accounting. You need a regular system to evaluate how well you performed and take stock of where you stand.
Every night before going to bed, look back at that day’s events, and evaluate where you profited or lost. Then make a plan so the next day will be more productive.
- What have I accomplished today?
- Did I accomplish what I intended?
- How am I going to improve for tomorrow?
- What are my strengths and weaknesses?
- What's my profit? What's my loss?
- How far have I come in my long-term goals?
- What's holding me back from growing?
Read over your list of mistakes and remind yourself, “This is the enemy.” It might be laziness, or envy, or bad temper. Track down your own Achilles heel, and concentrate on that. If you review your list daily, and get angry at your own stupidities, then that anger will give you the power to make changes.
On Rosh Hashana, we make a cheshbon covering the previous year. Figure out what you did right and what you did wrong ― and then make a plan to correct those mistakes.
On the other hand, our day-to-day actions need to be reviewed constantly. All the little steps are critically important. We can't just dream and fantasize about our goals and forget to do the steps to accomplish them, or we'll never get there. Great people started at the bottom too, and worked their way up. Without cheshbon we're lost. We have to keep track of our time management and constantly juggle our priorities. If we do this consistently ― e.g. every night ― then we'll be great!
We have to take responsibility for our lives because no one else will do it for us. We are all created in God's image and have the potential for greatness. The most important thing is to ask ourselves and clarify "What am I living for?"
In his classic book of Jewish ethics, "The Path of the Just," Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato says: "The foundation of good action and the root of true service of God is for a person to know his goal in this world." This is our motto in Judaism. If a person has clarity on where he's going in life, he'll get there. Otherwise he'll just remain in a state of confusion all his life. This is the common denominator of "free will" available to every human being. Figure out what you're living for and you're guaranteed to be great.
The shofar blasts like an alarm clock. We can either wake up and ask the right questions, or sleep our lives away. The Almighty wants us to wake up and live.