Have you ever asked yourself, what's the purpose of my life?
There's a famous story of Adam HaRishon, the very first human, who wondered this same thing. It actually came out of a little know creation story.
The first animal that God created was the dog and said to the dog: 'Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.' The dog said: 'That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?'
So God agreed.
Then God created the monkey and said: 'Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life span.' The monkey said: 'Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the Dog did?'
And God agreed.
Then God created the cow and said: 'You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.' The cow said: 'That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?'
And God agreed again.
Finally, God created man and said: 'Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years.' But man said: 'Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?'
'Okay,' said God, 'You asked for it.'
So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves.
For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family.
For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren.
And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.
The purpose of life has now been explained to you.
Perhaps the greatest question each one of us has is, what's the purpose of my life? If you came here today to get the answer to that question for you, I'm sorry, I don't have it, but I do have another proposition – the answer to the purpose of OUR lives, the lives of people who are part of Jewish spiritual communities - synagogues – and I learned it from our father Jacob in this week's parashah.
First, I need to give you a little background. Our parashah begins with Jacob, a young man probably as old as our bnai mitzvah, Ryan and Sydney. Jacob had left home for the first time, fleeing from his brother Esau. He was alone on the road to relatives in another land, people he did not know and had never met. He must surely have been filled with anxiety as his life was taking a new turn.
As he travelled, he experienced nightfall. He could not continue in the dark; he was tired; it was time for sleep. “And he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head.” We would have thought that Jacob had brought a back pack of clothing with him, since he knew he would be away from home for an extended time. Why didn’t he rest his head on his back pack? That would have been far more comfortable than resting his head on a stone.
Why a rock?
Perhaps this is a symbolic way of saying: Jacob was truly in a hard, difficult place. He had come against a rock, not knowing how to get past this dark, frightening episode in his life.
It's not a unique story. In fact, all of us have been in Jacob's shoes - When faced with crisis and moments of significant transition, everyone might experience the feeling that the sun has set, that darkness pervades, that one’s head is pressed against a rock. There are moments when one may feel lost and abandoned. How will he/she get past this crisis? What does the future have in store?
What is the purpose of my life?
And just as Jacob is in his darkest time...he dreams and the lights turn on. He sees in front of him angels going up and down a ladder...and God is standing besides Jacob and he says to him:
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. 14 Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. 15 Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Remember...I am with you...I will not leave you....you are not alone. If I were in Jacob's shoes, it is these words that would help me the most. But it's not only God who accompanies Jacob.
Jacob sees angels, going up and down a ladder. The question Rashi asks is, why would angels be going up and down, shouldn't it be the opposite? Shouldn't they be going down – don't angels live in heaven? Rashi goes on to explain that there were angels who escorted Jacob in the land of Israel, and then other angels take over after them, which is why they went up.
The line between angel and man is blurred in the book of Genesis. When Abraham is in his tent, he is approached by three men – he sees them as men, but later on they turn out to be be Mal'achim – the term in angel – but it also means messengers. Mal'achei Elohim – Messengers of God. In other words, perhaps we, you and me, have the potential to be the God and accompany lost souls in the darkness of their lives.
Last week, I attended the bar mitzvah ceremony of my cousin's son Matthew. I have never seen a child love life more than Matthew. He is always smiling, always hugging and loving others. He had been looking forward to the day of his bar mitzvah ceremony for his whole life. Every Shabbat for the last six months, he asked the rabbi, can I wear my talit? The rabbi said, not yet – you have to wait until your day.
Matthew led part of the bar mitzvah service, and his family, his cousins, including me, led many of the other parts. What is unique about Matthew is that none of us thought he would get to this moment. He was born with a condition where parts of his brain were fused together. He had brain surgeries before he was three years old, and the doctors said he may never speak. He would often have seizures. But he's a strong kid – he persevered. Thankfully, Matthew was never in a dark place – but his family was. You have visions for your children when they are born – and once the reality set in – those pictures became dark – they disappear. That is when the angels entered their lives – multiple therapists, teachers from all parts of his life and special needs programs, family, and finally, a synagogue community including a bnai mitzvah tutor, a religious school, and a rabbi that accomapnied Matthew on his journey and enveloped their family with love, and offered them a place, a Makom, for Matthew to shine and share his light with others.
During our dark moments in life, when our heads are resting on hard rocks and we are alone, God calls out to us: Remember...I am with you...I will not leave you....you are not alone. But it is hard to hear God sometimes, to truly believe it.
But when we see the angels who surround us, and accompany us on our journeys, we realize what Jacob realized:
“Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!”
Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.”
I don't know what your purpose is – but I know what our purpose is – to be those messengers of God who remind people in their dark times –
Remember...I am with you...I will not leave you....you are not alone.
That is one of the reasons why THIS PLACE, THIS MAKOM exists – to create a space for angels to accompany for those in the dark, for those whose head rest on rocks. Sometimes, we are Jacob, sometimes we are the angels – but at all times, this is our purpose. And when we reach our milestones, we realize that even if we are alone at that moment, we know that the angels in our lives helped get us to this place, this makom.
And so, if you would like to begin a new journey in your life, and you aren't on this path yet, I humbly ask that you consider finding your purpose here, with us – to join us as we journey together on a path to holiness as part of Shaarei Kodesh. And if you are a part of Shaarei Kodesh, but haven't felt that you've really started your journey, let's begin today, together.
May it be God's will that we live up to our potential – to be angels in this world for others, and to warm ourselves from the light of the people whom we set on their paths.