Making Your Every Action A Meaningful Act
Eli is a successful architect and is climbing the corporate ladder upwards towards partnership in a large firm. He is 29 years old and is socially also doing quite well, with friends who he goes out with and events which he attends. Eli though is not happy and feels that he is missing something in life which causes that all his other accomplishments to not seem worth that much.
Sarah is not in a good financial state of being, losing her job 1 year ago, she recently had to accept a different job with a lower salary so she would not run into debt. Sarah has little time to socialize because her new job causes her to work for longer hours. She feels very frustrated at the situation and is becoming more depressed by her lack of achievement in life.
Life coaching is a relatively new field which Vikki Brock[i] traces back to its roots in the 1970’-1980’s and has now turned into a multi million dollar industry. It is the process of helping people identify and achieve personal goals whilst maintaining their motivation. A number of people like Eli and Sarah above would turn to a life coach to help them deal with their issues. It should be pointed out that there has been a lot of criticism concerning the lack of professional training of life coaches. It would be advisable that if someone wished to use this type of service then the life coach would have some valid therapeutic qualification.
A lot of life coaching is based on the principles of the world famous psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who wrote the famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Frankl explained how an individual needs to find meaning in their life so they can be a healthy human being and be able to be a functioning part of society.
The lessons from this week’s Torah portion of Balak gives a new dimension to the help which life coaching can deliver.. The Torah portion describes the story of the non Jewish prophet “Bilam” who instead of cursing the Jewish people, goes on to bless them. In those blessings we find a number of references to the good of what will happen in the near future after Moshiach (the Messiah) comes.
It must be made clear that concept of Moshiach is a Jewish concept and should not be confused with any other religion’s definition. We have clear definitions of what qualities Moshiach will have and this is set out in Jewish law by Maimonides in the laws of Kings[ii]. These qualities were not found in people who other religion’s claim to be their messiah and also famous Jewish false Messiah’s like Shabtai Zvi.
The truth is that concept of redemption of the Jewish people (which will also be for the whole world) is a basic belief in Judaism (it is one of the thirteen principles of our faith, as described by Maimonides).
In this week’s Torah portion, the famous Jewish commentator Rashi, whilst explaining one of the verses talking about Moshiach[iv], quotes a verse from Tehillim (Psalms). The verse from Tehillim (Psalms - 72,8) that Rashi quotes, states that when Moshiach comes "he will rule from ocean to ocean and from the river to the ends of the earth". The question is asked why did the verse have to mention the oceans and ends of the earth etc? Why didn't the verse just say in a more direct way that “Moshiach will rule the whole world”?
When G-D pays us back for the work that we have done it is always in a way of "measure for measure" and so the verse above is hinting to us the service which is necessary to reach a world of good.
A sea is something which conceals the objects with in it and as one looks at the ocean the individual is only able to perceive the water and not the fish etc. The entities which are found on the land, on the other hand, are visible and distinct. These two objects of sea and land represent two thrusts in the service of people: 1) ocean - using the concealed powers of one's soul and 2) land - the actions of an individual in the diverse world around them.
The verse from Tehillim talks about two oceans which indicate where the rulership must start and end. In an individual’s day to day activities the sea represents the intellect and the land represents action. An individual's work in terms of Judaism is not complete until they can control themselves from the beginning of their conscious powers i.e. intellect, until it finally comes into their action.
This means to say from the beginning a person needs to be in control of their intellect, and to try achieving that it is completely permeated with holiness (i.e. an awareness of a G-DLY reality in the world around them etc). An individual's general action, is dependent on their intellect, as it is stated “the mind rules the heart"[v] which can then guard the heart from negative desires. If the mind is full of positive thoughts then the consequences should be positive feelings and deeds.
On the other hand, we cannot stop at trying to be in control of our own intellect and emotion! As we see in actuality that an individual can have a good idea and feeling but not carry it through into action. What really matters in all cases is the bottom line which is action![vi]
Any individual who is only trying to control their thoughts and feelings but not bringing it into actual deed is not fulfilling their mission in this world to their fullest. The test to see if one is really on the right track is when an individual tries to put their resolutions into practice.
This is all in relation to the lesson of the sea but an individual must also be involved with the land. Whilst being in full control of oneself is good, it is not enough, as an individual also has to be involved in their surroundings and not be closed off in their own world.
This does not mean that an individual will try and control the people around themselves but rather will try and influence their surroundings in a positive manner. The individual should not think “I am ok, it’s not my responsibility to help other people realise the truth” but they should be concerned about others. A person has to think how can I help make the world a more G-DLY place. One thereby makes the world around us into a place where it is recognised that it is G-D'S garden.[vii]
Now to answer the original question. The verse in Tehillim is exact, as it hints to the course of action which we need to do, to achieve that G-D will rule (be revealed) in all the world. This is through each individual trying to rule and be in control of their intellect, thoughts, emotions, and action, as well as trying to effect the world around oneself . [viii] When we do this we affect a G-DLY revelation in this world which we will see when Moshiach comes.
Back to Eli and Sarah:
Eli and Sarah are both feeling unhappy in their lives for seemingly different reasons. However the truth is that both of them, as Frankl would explain their symptoms, have negative feelings due to a lack of meaning and achievement in their lives.
When children go to school the usual emphasis and philosophy of education is to teach the child how to earn money and be a smart boy or girl. There is little emphasis (if any) that each of their actions will have a long lasting effect on the world around them and how meaningful are their good acts.
The child can grow up and become a good businessman or businesswoman but they will ultimately feel something lacking in their lives when they question what is the purpose of having money. They can reach the top of their profession but they then have a question what is next? This has been seen over and over again with famous film stars and business people using life coaches and therapists to help them with their depression from a lack of meaning in their life.
The other extreme is also true with adults who financially are not doing well and they view their value and meaningfulness in society connected to how much they earn. These people have been brought up in a society which values people according to their monthly wage. When an individual is not succeeding in the financial part of their life then they become depressed, viewing their existence without meaning.
Sarah and Eli can both take a lesson from the Torah portion of Balak. Each action we take to try and fulfill our G-DLY mission of learning Torah and doing the commandments in this world, it achieves another part towards bringing the world into its true and complete state. A world in which there will be no more famine, war or jealousy etc. Just by learning some Torah and putting it into one action then a person is bringing the whole world to a world of good. In addition to the essential worth of each person on planet earth and the special quality of being a Jew, it is important to remember the tremendous achievement of each mitvah (commandment) that they we do. An individual needs to try and make a vessel for G-D'S blessing by working but nevertheless, this is not what defines them as a person. The knowledge of what a good deed can do is what will gives Eli and Sarah the power to find meaning and a feeling of achievement in their lives.
The fact that someone has achieved an awareness that money is a means to an end but it is not the goal itself is valuable. It is also important that they themselves try to increase their awareness of G-Dliness, Torah and other people etc. Nevertheless it cannot stop there and must continue by each one trying to help other people and to elevate the world to a more spiritual plane. When we help other people this is also an achievement in bringing the world to a state of completeness.
This awareness of an individual’s worth not being dependent on the values of society can be reached by each one of us. It comes through learning and challenging our thoughts and principles which affect our emotions and actions. Sometimes though, a person will need help to overcome their depression which is due to a value system which is dependent on financial or social success. That help can be in the form of a friend, Rabbi or if necessary a orthodox therapist.
What ever the situation one finds themselves, the single good deed is not meaningless, as can be seen with the example of atomic power. A child could press a single red button, without knowing what he/she is doing and theoretically that button could trigger the launch of an atomic bomb. The destruction would be enormous, affecting many lives around the world. The Torah tells us that the side of good many times greater than the negative and so if this is true of a single bad act, a single good act can achieve a lot more. As Maimonides states that “one good deed can tip the global scales and bring the ultimate redemption[ix].”
[i]Brock, V. (2015, August). Special Report: History of Coaching. Management Magazine.
[ii] Laws of Kings chapter 11
[iv] Bamidbar 24,19
[v] Zohar III, p. 224a, see also Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim III, 8.
[vi] Avot ch.1 Mishna 17
[vii] Shir Hashirim 5,1
[viii] Lekutei Sichos Chelek 38 p.100 -102
[ix] Rambam Laws of Teshuvah ch. 3 Halacha 4
This article is general advice but for specific advice a individual needs to seek help from a professional.