Fulfill Potential

My grandfather made a lot of money and left me a good chunk of it. I'm a pretty talented guy, but I enjoy mountain biking and hanging out with my friends. My parents are hassling me to "go to college and do something with your life." But I'm not sure what's the problem with my current lifestyle. I'm certainly not harming anyone. What should I answer them?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Allow me to share a story. The Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, lived in Lithuania a few hundred years ago. He was the most famous rabbi of his generation, and it's said that in the 40 years he headed the yeshiva in the town of Voluzhin, some 10,000 students studied there. The Netziv wrote commentaries on all parts of the Torah, and once when he'd published a particularly difficult work, called "HaEmek Shayla," he called together his friends for a special celebration, where he told them the following story:

"When I was a child, I never paid attention in school. I was lazy and did not want to concentrate. Then one day when I was 11 years old, I came home from school and heard my parents talking. My father was explaining how he'd spoken to my teacher and together they'd concluded that I'd never amount to anything in terms of scholarship. So, my father explained, he was arranging to enroll me as an apprentice shoemaker as soon as I became Bar Mitzvah.

"I was so shocked by this conversation that I ran to my parents and exclaimed: 'I'm sorry I've been so negligent with my studies. Please give me one more chance to prove that I'm a good student.' And from that day onward, I applied myself to the study of Torah with tremendous vigor and dedication. Since then I have not wasted a moment and it is that devotion which has enabled me to write the commentary which we are celebrating today."

Then the Netziv continued: "But just imagine what would have happened had I not overheard my parents' conversation. I'd probably have ended up as a shoemaker. And I'd have been a pretty good shoemaker besides! But think of what would have happened at the end of my life when I'd get up to the Heavenly Court and they'd ask me: 'Naftali, show us what you've done with your life.' And I'd proudly show them my beautiful shoes: the fine workmanship, the quality leather and the exquisite design.

"And then they'd ask me: 'But Naftali, where are all the books you were to publish? Where are your 10,000 students?'"

The Netziv continued: "And what would I possibly respond??"

(Of course there is nothing wrong with being a good shoemaker. But in this case the Netziv had a different set of skills that made him fitting for great scholarship.)

Every human being was created with a unique set of skills and talents - and a unique set of life circumstances. The Almighty created each of us with a special role to fulfill, a special problem to fix, a spiritual greatness to achieve. The task of life is to figure out what is our specific unique purpose in life - and then embark on a path to achieve that purpose.

In your case, you're still young and you probably don't feel that time is passing. But it is. And quite likely, in another 5 or 10 or 20 or 30 years, you will wake up one day and say, "Oy - I've wasted so much time!"

That can be a tragic realization from which you may never recover.

So my advice is not to wait to figure out your higher purpose in life. Get started today, right now. Best of luck, and let me know how it goes!

More Questions

Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Receive the Aish.com Daily Features Email

Sign up to our Daily Email Jewsletter.

Our privacy policy