Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ashrei Teaches us about Our Mission (part 1)

"Our Mission"

Can one truly make a sweeping statement like "this is what our purpose in life is about"? It would be too arrogant to unabashedly and confidently state as a fact that I know what God expects from us. Or do we hide behind that false modesty in order to never have to confront ourselves with such a major idea in our lives. Perhaps the exact think we must investigate and continually reassess is our very nature and our capacity to truly change this world.

Nevertheless, perhaps hints in Torah and throughout our history might give us that glimpse and teach us what it is we are doing here in this world. When asking Jews what their purpose in this world is, they respond in several ways:

1. To get closer to God. (I am not sure what that means. Along the lines with 'becoming more spiritual and holy', etc. Often to describe ambiguous feelings we resort to ambiguous words).

2. To be a good person. (Also too general and undefined, and quite subjective for that matter)

3. To be a servant of God. (See 1)

4. To perform mitzvot. (Is that the end or a means to something greater?)

5. To learn, live, love, or be Torah! (Again this is, while trying not to sound heretical, a means to something not necessarily an end unto itself.)

So, what then is it all about if I have rejected all of the above? Clearly one cannot reject any of the above answers as extremely vital to one's life, but perhaps I can crystallize the components into one sweeping mission built on two words--chesed and emet (kindness and truth).

Another way to state these two foundational principles is: chesed=social consciousness; emet=absolute truth, or God consciousness. The two in this world must go hand in hand. At the dawn of creation there was Adam and Eve alone. They epitomized an 'I' existence, never actually speaking to each other and not acknowledging others in society, Cain killed Abel, leading the way for generations of self-involved pleasure seekers. A world recognizing God but not recognizing social consciousness--chessed--must be destroyed.

The generation which emerged out of the ark learned their lesson and became quite harmonious. Led by the inclusionary attitude of Noach towards his family this new world showed real promise in terms of social interaction and responsibility. Yet, it seems as if a trade off was necessary. Once they engaged in chesed they rejected emet. This is evidenced by the story of the Tower of Babel, at least according to Rashi's interpretation of focusing on themselves and waging war with God.

As a result of a world which is unable to find the proper balance between these two fundamental poles God chose to create a world within the world, a nation whose mission would be to restore the delicate balance of chesed and emet.Next blog I will show the various biblical personalities who exemplified this hallowed mission through the years and then show how this is reflected in Tehillim of King David.