Spirituality in modern teachings often emphasizes self-actualization. As a unique human being, you are called to develop your potential, your spark of godliness.
The second side of this is the call of the “other.” A truly ethical life, in this view, is lived less by developing your own capacities than by devoting yourself to developing the capacities of other people.
Sometimes the two are made into one — how do you awaken your own gifts? Through giving to others.
While that is partly true, the simple solution is too simple. There are areas of cultivation that require solitude and even selfishness. You cannot study, pray, think deeply, draw your family close while simultaneously doling out food to those in need, or providing comfort to the bereaved.
So among competing claims we seek balance. Each has to decide how much of life is devoted to others and how much is a cultivation of self. To everything, Koheleth reminds us, there is a season. For oneself, for others. To rest and to give. To grow your soul and to offer that grown soul to a world in need.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).