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THE ART OF MEANINGFULNESS

THE ART OF MEANINGFULNESS
Parashat Behar Behukotay
by Rabbi Yosef Farhi
The wisest of men taught us that there is always a deeper meaning to things than the way we experience them on a superficial level. As King Solomon taught הַכֹּ֥ל הוֹלֵ֖ךְ אֶל־מָק֣וֹם אֶחָ֑ד הַכֹּל֙ הָיָ֣ה מִן־הֶֽעָפָ֔ר וְהַכֹּ֖ל שָׁ֥ב אֶל־הֶעָפָֽר: And the following passuk states מִ֣י יוֹדֵ֗עַ ר֚וּחַ בְּנֵ֣י הָאָדָ֔ם הָעֹלָ֥ה הִ֖יא לְמָ֑עְלָה וְר֙וּחַ֙ הַבְּהֵמָ֔ה הַיֹּרֶ֥דֶת הִ֖יא לְמַ֥טָּה לָאָֽרֶץ (קהלת ג ׳ כ״א). G-d created human beings who stand erect, while animals go on all four – because human beings possess a soul that supports and uplifts them. The very proof that the soul is G-dly, that it is from the Heavens, and after death, the soul will live on, is derived from this principle of finding deeper meaning in what seems as just incidental.The final blessing that G-d blesses us for following His Mitzvoth in this week’s Parasha is וָאוֹלֵ֥ךְ אֶתְכֶ֖ם קֽוֹמְמִיּֽוּת. That Hashem will have us stand tall, as proud Jews. To stand tall because we live a life of meaning, of purpose, of allowing our soul to govern our lives. (Da’at Torah Vayikra 281; Sefer Hayashar)

Man is always on a search for meaning. Only you can choose what that meaning is. It is very important to give the right meaning because the way you interpret things will determine the type of life you live, the relationships you have, and how happy or miserable you will be. This search for meaning is challenging, because who is to say that the meaning you give to an event, experience, or relationship is objectively the true meaning. Luckily, the Torah is the lighthouse that shines the beacon of meaning to guide us away from danger and toward the place we want to go. The Torah gives us the meaning, and sometimes it does so by using a seemingly random word to describe something.

For example, in Parashat Emor, the Torah refers to the wife for whom the Kohen is permitted to become impure, as “She’er”. כִּ֚י אִם־לִשְׁאֵר֔וֹ הַקָּרֹ֖ב אֵלָ֑יו Usually, the word sh-er means something that is left over, a remainder. Why in the world is a woman referred to as a “remainder”? That could be the greatest insult for a woman, to feel that she is considered a remainder! (Especially when Mother’s Day falls out in the week of Parashat Emor!)

The Ktav Vekabalah (Student of R Akiva Eiger, times of Malbim) wrote that the only way for a man to have a continuation of himself, a reminder of his existence after he passes on, is through his wife. You live on through your descendants. The greatest praise for a woman is that she can bring eternity to her husband. That is what she is “hardwired” to do. She is built physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually for that purpose. When a woman sees that her child is not going in the way she hoped, the pain is not so much one of guilt for not having been a good mother as it is of feeling that she has not lived up to her true purpose and real role in life. When a man perceives his wife as his ticket to eternity, he respects her far more and expects from her less! Your marriage will take on new meaning if you perceive your wife as the Torah perceives the great importance of a wife.

If you view life as having a deeper meaning, that it is just a hallway leading to the big banquet hall of Olam Haba, your life will look different. In our Parasha, the Torah commands us to give Tzeddaka, but the choice of words is so interesting. וְכִֽי־יָמ֥וּךְ אָחִ֛יךָ עִמָּ֖ךְ When your brother becomes poor with you… Why is the poor man referred to, specifically, as your brother?

When someone is rich, everyone is his family. Everyone who knows him feels like a brother to him. But when someone becomes poor, no one feels like a brother – not even his own family. Even his own relatives behave with a certain distance. But the Torah says, NO! Now that this guy is bankrupt, we all have a mitzvah to be his brother! We all have a mitzvah to feel his pain, to have empathy! When he is poor, you have a mitzvah to feel with him!

Why is he now more your brother than ever before? Because a Jew is not your brother so that you can get something out of him. He is your brother so that you can help him when he needs your help. The Torah calls him your brother when you have a mitzvah to give him Tzeddakah. Why?

This question Tornusruphus the Rasha asked R’ Akiva : If your G-d loves the poor, why does He not support them? R’ Akiva answered: In order to save us from Gehinom, when we support him! (Bava Batra 10a)

This poor guy needs to live 100 years of hell, so that you do not have to go to hell?!? Why does that make any sense? The answer is because this world is just the hallway. The next world is the banquet. A hundred years is minuscule compared to the eternity of Olam Haba. And yes, because he is your brother, it is worth it for him to live a life of poverty to save you. No one else can save you from Gehinom like he can.

The Torah commands us to remind ourselves every seven years to give the proper meaning to our careers and our businesses. We must keep the Shemitta laws, and give up our ownership of our fields, our livelihood, for the Shemitta year. Why? To remind us that, in fact, we own nothing! We are not the owners of what we own. We do not live off of our businesses. We live off of G-d’s blessing.

Here are the selfie steps to find meaning.

  1. Learn Torah. Get yourself access to the Rabbi you can relate to the most.
  2. Spend time with nature. Stay away from artificial light- smartphones, computers, screens, stores, and offices with artificial light. At least 90 percent of our time is indoors. Find the right balance. Go for a walk. Take in all the colors of nature and ask yourself what it all means. Stay away from motion, traffic, vibration. This exercise can help us develop the ability to see both the forest and the trees.
  3. Meaning in life, happiness, cannot be pursued. As long as you are looking for it, you are not going to find it. Happiness, success, are a choice of perspective and are a side-effect of you pursuing your goals and connecting to a cause greater than yourself.
  4. Remind yourself every day to do the right thing, love fully, pursue fascinating experiences, and undertake your most important tasks.

About the author, Yosef

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