This morning, as I sipped my cup of Relaxed Mind, a Yogi Tea designed to “promote tranquility,” I happened to glance at the saying on the back of the tea bag tag: The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment.
Now, the “promote tranquility” promise withstanding, I experienced a strong gut reaction to start arguing with the tea bag.
First, I thought, I don’t enjoy every moment of life. No question, my life is filled with blessings, foremost among them being loved by the woman I love and reveling in our shared commitment to express that love to one another every day of our lives. But, however much I brim with “good and plenty,” throughout the course of my days I also experience anger, sadness, loss, frustration, sometimes depression….
Sure, generally speaking, I’d like to have less anger, less sadness, less loss, less frustration, less depression in my life. Who wouldn’t? But would I really want to be the kind of person who doesn’t emotionally experience the hardships in this world? And is that what Judaism would expect of me?
Following closely behind came my second retort to the tea bag: Enjoying every moment is not my purpose in life. It’s not even a good purpose to life. Isn’t there more to life than our individual enjoyment as human beings? What about our personal responsibility to others? What about tikkun olam, making the world a better place for having lived in it?
I decided then and there that it wasn’t the tea bag’s fault; I just wasn’t having a conversation with a Jewish tea bag.
And to confirm this, I reached for Jewish sources – in particular, one of my favorite Jewish sources, Reform Judaism magazine. On the question of how we as Jews are to experience the plentitude of human emotion, I reread “An Open Heart” by Alan Morinis, founding director of The Mussar Institute. Morinis answers the question of why the groom breaks a glass to remind us of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem at the very time of sharing one of life’s greatest simchas – a wedding:
On a collective level, it’s about our shared history and memory: We remember our people’s tragedies even at the time of our greatest joy in recognition that both can exist simultaneously. On a personal level, it reminds us that the only way to truly experience joy is to have a sensitive heart, and a sensitive heart will also feel deep sorrow. A thermometer records both warmth and cold. A sensitive instrument records everything on the scale.
I think the breaking of the glass sends the message: It’s OK to let yourself experience joy with an open heart, knowing that the openness is going to bring the full range of human emotion. Don’t set yourself up by expecting only happiness. Life comes with a broken glass.
When I consider Jewish teachings on life purpose, it is Rabbi Naomi Levy’s article “The Jaguar Whisperer” that enters and opens my heart. She relates the story of Alan Rabinowitz, whose severe childhood stutter kept him from speaking to people until age 19. Instead he talked and listened to animals – and later became a renowned conservationist who established the world’s largest tiger reserve, in Burma, and the world’s first jaguar preserve, in Belize. She explains:
Rabbi Isaac Luria, the great Jewish mystic who lived in Zefat in the 1600s, said that every human soul is given a Divine mission to repair some aspect of this broken world. No other person can repair what each of us has been uniquely empowered to do.
But how do you determine your Divine mission if you have never been told what it is?
Alan’s life story reminds me of the Jewish mystical teaching: Our greatest impediments hold the key to discovering our life’s Divine mission.
Are these two teachings, Alan Morinis’s and Rabbi Levy’s, interconnected?
Might digging deeply into our emotional reserves help many of us to find “the purpose in life”?
Might that purpose be nothing so generic as “enjoying every moment” but as uplifting as “bringing our individual challenges and gifts to the betterment of the world”?
And might one small part of my own life’s purpose be to share such contemplations with you?