Life in Perspective

I'm in high school and am starting to think about life. Everything seems so superficial - relationships, the media, fashions. I don't want my life built around that. What advice can you offer?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Every human being is comprised of two components -- the physical (body) and the spiritual (soul). Each wants to be nourished and sustained, yet each achieves this through very different means. The body seeks comfort and immediate gratification: food, sleep, power, wealth. The soul seeks longer-lasting, eternal pleasures: meaning, love, good deeds, connection to God.

The Talmud says: "Who is the wise person? He who sees the future." This ability to consider long-term, spiritual consequences is what distinguishes the mature from the immature. A child cannot predict that eating 20 pieces of candy will lead to a painful stomach ache. A college student may not see that promiscuity can lead to life-threatening disease. Or a father may not see that working overtime can lead to irreparable disconnection from his wife and children.

Today, each of us is fighting the battle between body and soul. The multi-billion-dollar media machine is constantly enticing us to buy into the lifestyle of "Instantaneous-ism." Between fast-food restaurants, disposable products and instant on-line everything, we have become accustomed to a world where immediacy is the norm. And the effect is that we've lost our sense of perspective.

To win the battle, we must be proactive in undertaking spiritual activities. Something as simple as saying a blessing over food turns a "physical" act into a spiritual experience. Otherwise, what really separates us from animals?

The story is told of Rabbi Alexander Ziskind (19th century Europe) who had a personal custom after Yom Kippur. Each year he would break the fast with boney fish. Why? Because in this way, he would be forced to eat slowly and not gorge the food. The rabbi was determined that his soul maintain control over his body.

It is one's ability to moderate (not squelch, but curb) the body's needs that gives us the freedom to pursue the needs of the soul. Because when all is said and done, our lives are only as good as the soul we've nurtured. Next time you're at a funeral, listen closely to the eulogy: They speak about how he was a good parent, how he donated money to help build a hospital, how he cared for others, and how he was loyal to his faith.

You will never hear about what kind of car he drove, or how many different restaurants he tried, or how much money he had. Because deep down, we all know what is truly important, what is ever-lasting.

So keep your eye on the ball. Acquire wisdom. Know exactly what you're living for. Our actions today, and the choices we make, affect not only our own lives, but influence generations to come.

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