GOOD MORNING! Did you ever wonder what really distinguishes a human being from an animal? Every human has four deep seated needs - meaning, pleasure, understanding and self-actualization. Cows don't have these needs. Dogs don't have these needs. Cats ... no way!
The renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a 'secondary rationalization' of instinctual drives... A public-opinion poll was conducted a few years ago in France. The results showed that 89 percent of the people polled admitted that man needs 'something' to live for."
According to Western ideology, there is no absolute purpose to life. God and evil, meaning and meaninglessness, are matters of personal taste. Yet with all the "freedoms" this philosophy embraces, it disposes of the one and only ingredient that gives life profound and lasting satisfaction: a transcendent purpose -- the recognition of a Creator who cares about man's actions. A Creator Who invests him with the ability to make choices that either further God's purpose or undermine it.
As vitally as he needs to breathe, eat and sleep, every human being needs to know that his existence matters. The philosophies of relativism and purposelessness, however, inevitably engender in man gnawing questions about the meaning and purpose of his life. "If nothing really matters, why am I making such an effort to be a good person? Is life just about killing time until death?"
Understandably, this creates a subconscious anxiety which many people dread uncovering. Better to convince oneself that life has no purpose at all, than to confront the tormenting realization that I have lived life in ignorance of that purpose.
Those who do confront the question often embark on a painful, protracted search for meaning. Frequently, they drift through the array of alternatives to Western values, such as Zen, Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation. The greater majority, however, accepts society's insistence that there are no answers, and tries to deaden their pain through various mediums of distraction.
Some lose themselves in the world of entertainment and illusion -- television, movies and video games. Others dedicate mind and soul to "making it" in their careers. Many, in an attempt to relieve their anxiety, adopt the belief that there is no Creator, no responsibility, no accountability and no goals. Without a viable alternative to meaninglessness, these people have no choice but to avoid contemplating life too seriously.
However, despite the best efforts of distraction and rationalization, our souls long for meaning. And until the soul receives the nourishment (read: meaning and purpose) it so vitally needs, man will never find lasting tranquility. On some level (most often subconscious), he will continue to be plagued by disharmony between what he deeply craves and what Western ideology claims life to offer.
As Torah Jews, our inner longing to lead meaningful, productive lives is nurtured and guided. The goal is our relationship with God. Our tools are the mitzvot, the commandments. The framework for success and meaning is neatly laid out for us in the intricate structure of Torah life. Best of all, we need not struggle to find the goal. We are free from the start to focus our energies and resources on achieving it.
Through Torah, the most mundane and routine activities of life are elevated to a Higher purpose. While we may never accomplish all that we should, a Torah lifestyle removes the specter of meaninglessness that haunts so many lives. The Torah provides an internal stability, gained from the knowledge that life is purposeful and valuable. We are given ongoing opportunities to accomplish things that are meaningful -- and the realization that our choices truly matter. This is tremendously empowering and reassuring.
(from the teachings of Rabbi Noah Weinberg, adapted from The Eye of a Needle by Rabbi Eric Coopersmith)
To delve more into making life meaningful, read Twerski on Spirituality, by Rabbi Abraham Twerski available from your local Jewish bookstore, at JudaicaEnterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.
Tzav, Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36
This week's Torah portion includes the laws of: the Burnt Offering, Meal Offering, High Priest's Offering, Sin Offerings, Guilt Offerings and Peace Offerings. It concludes with the portions of the Peace Offerings which are allotted to the Priests and the installation ceremony of the Priest for serving in the Sanctuary.
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from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
The Torah states:
"The fire on the Altar shall be kept burning on it, it shall not be extinguished" (Lev. 6:5).
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Baal HaTanya, suggested a unique translation of the above verse. It can be read, "The fire on the Altar shall be kept burning within him (the Kohen). You shall extinguish the negative."
It has been suggested that the symbolism of the offerings on the Altar is that we should recognize that the animal nature within us must be subdued and subjugated to the Divine neshamah (soul). This can be accomplished when one has a passionate desire to unite with God, because the neshamah is, in fact, Godly in nature.
"He (God) blew into his (Adam's) nostrils a breath of life" (Genesis 2:7). The Zohar comments that when one exhales, one breathes out something from within oneself, hence when God "blew into his nostrils a breath of life," He (so to speak) "exhaled" from within Himself. The neshamah is the breath of life of Divine origin, and it craves being reunited with its Source. The barrier to this reunion is the mundane desires of the earthly body. When these are subjugated to the neshamah, the barrier is removed and the neshamah can unite with God.
Our history is replete with tzaddikim (righteous people) who were able to maintain their composure and were not crushed by adversity. The Psalmist says, "He will not fear bad tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in God" (Psalms 112:7). And again, "As for me, nearness of God is my good (Psalms 73:28). A person who has a burning passion for uniting with God can withstand adversity, and can think positively even under the most stressful circumstances.
This, said Reb Shneur Zalman, is the meaning of the above verse. One who has the sublimating fire of the Altar within him can always extinguish the negative.
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Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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