Parshat Re’eh: The Blessing of Purpose
Personal power is born from purpose. A task, a duty, a mission, grounds us with responsibility. It directs us toward an end and entrusts us to discover the mean. Purpose is the air of humanity’s sense of self—in its absence, there is slow suffocation. There is a reason why human beings, across regions, borders, and oceans, feel an innate drive to “do something” with their lives, to “make an impact.” The engine of human life is meaning. The Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl termed this “logotherapy,” premised on the belief that people universally depend on meaningful living and that is their primary motivational force.
How do we find purpose in our lives? It is not a trendy interest, a presently stylish component we can invite into our lives. Purpose is a state of living, a mindset. The Slonimer Rebbe writes as much in Parshat Re’eh on the famous opening pasuk: “See this day I give before you blessing and curse” (Devarim 11:26). The obvious question arises as to what those two options are and how we access them. In his magnum opus, Netivot Shalom, the Slonimer Rebbe identifies purpose as the blessing we choose to welcome into our lives. The thought, though seemingly simplistic, is drawn from a rich breadth and complexity.
He begins with a principle from the Baal Shem Tov. Every quality and trait given to an individual is, in truth, gifted to them, as Hashem cannot deliver anything bad. The root of all things is goodness, and it is the translation that skews its essence. Perhaps the negative characteristic affords a moment of healing to improve said trait. The gift in that case is growth.
Blessing, he continues, is ultimate connection to Hashem, whereas curse is experiential detachment. One can imagine the hollow casing of an appliance that is unplugged from its electrical outlet—the emptiness would be palpable, excruciating, even. That is a life absent our Source. The choice presented before us is to choose partnership, oneness, life, with Hashem, or to venture into the dense woods of life without so much as a flashlight to find our way. The Slonimer Rebbe sees the heart of that pasuk as proposing those choices. But he takes it further.
The particular language of “give” invites the understanding that this presentation exists daily. Hashem constantly places before us blessing and curse. Outside of the abstract idea of God-conscious living, what does it mean? Each person, he begins in answering, is born with a unique pedigree of self, a distinct consciousness that operates as the “I” in our lives. In that vein, each person is born with a unique pedigree of purpose, a mission, a reason, for their life. That is distinct between people. No two lives are alike; no two souls are alike; no two missions are alike. The greatest blessing—the greatest manifestation of Hashem’s presence in your life—is the journey of self-work and world-work. Actualizing one’s purpose in the world, living one’s deepest dreams and desires, is unparalleled to any joy we can imagine. Failing to do so is the greatest curse.
The blessing and curse Hashem sets before us each day is, at its core, manifest through our perspectives. If we see our lives as purpose-driven, that the events of past and present birth a meaningful future, then we feel blessed. We feel part of a grand story, God’s story. Alternatively, if we see randomness and chance dominating our lives, then its arbitrary nature detracts all the richness we had before us. The blessing of purpose is always before us, a gift from Hashem. The choice is to access that blessing, to welcome meaning, love, and life into our arms.