-Talmud, Kiddushin 82a.
“I was created to serve my Creator.” With these words, the Talmud sums up the purpose of life. But there is also another version of this talmudic passage, which reads. “I was not created, but to serve my Creator.” A similar “double negative” is employed by our mishnah: “All that G-d created in His world, He did not create but for His glory.”
The difference is significant. The statement, “I was created to serve my Creator,” recognizes man as an existence in his own right (“I was created”), though one whose ultimate raison d’etre is defined by a reality greater than himself. The second version, however, attributes no legitimacy whatsoever to man as an entity distinct from his role: “I was not created, but to serve my Creator”–therein, and only therein, lies the fact of his being.
One of Torah’s basic rule is: “These and these are both the words of the Living G-d.” When the Torah mentions two opinions or interpretations it is because both are valid and relevant. Differing versions and manners of articulation of the same statement also complement one another, each providing another perspective to the concept they express.
The same applies to two descriptions of man’s identity and purpose: both are integral to our lives. There is an aspect to our mission in life that involves the total abnegation of self. But our service of the Creator also includes an element that allows for–indeed demands–the retaining of an individual identity, an “I” which serves as opposed to an egoless service.
from an Ethics of Our Fathers commentary
Sivan 2, 5772 * May 23, 2012
Recently, I’ve been exploring the identity of “faithful man” based on Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s book The Lonely Man of Faith. You may have read some of my musings in “meditations” like Burning the Plow and Behar-Behukotai: Seeking Crowns. But in all of the explorations of the purpose of man I’ve read that were written by people of faith, I continue to collide with one important fact: each of us as individuals is important to God.
On the one hand, I guess that doesn’t come as much of a shock, since we assume it all the time, particularly when we pray. But on the other hand, the significance of a single human soul seems so unimaginably small when compared to the infinite being of the eternal Creator. Even David remarked on it in this famous passage from one of his psalms:
O Lord, what is man that you regard him,
or the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a passing shadow. –Psalm 144:3-4 (ESV)
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!
-Hamlet Act 2, scene 2
But what Shakespeare quipped in irony, we might say with conviction. I’ve been tempted more than once to imagine that God created the Universe for the sake of humanity but not necessarily for individual people. Then, I’ve imagined that only certain people have been worthy of Creation and the rest of us just got a “free ride,” but is that selling God and His intentions short?
There’s no way to know for sure, except when we read David’s psalm, but then, was David only talking about himself, or was he describing even the most humble of God’s creations? All men, great and small alike, are equal in that our “days are like a passing shadow” and each of us is “like a breath.” No one is immune from loneliness, loss, sickness, pain, and finally, death. We take comfort in the hope of the life in the world to come, but we live here and now and frankly, even people of faith can feel scared and small. In fact, we may be uniquely suited to feel scared and small because we are, in some tiny sense, aware of the vastness of God. Secular man in his self-appointed position of supremacy over the earth, knows only himself as the largest and most dominant of beings and only in vague impressions may get glimpses of something bigger…but then that might only be “the environment” or whatever is out there in “the universe.”
All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.” -Sanhedrin, 11:1
“G-d makes the spiritual physical; the Jew makes the physical spiritual” -Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov
The Jew of faith, can take comfort in these words but what about the rest of us? What about the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah? What about Christians? Actually, Christians tend to be a little arrogant in their…in our salvation. We believe only those who are exactly like us have “saved” and will “go to Heaven” but we deny Sanhedrin 11:1 (which is understandable for most Christians) as well as Paul’s own words:
And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; –Romans 11:26 (ESV)
Somewhere between the crushing humility of insignificance in God’s incredible universe and the Babel-like pedestal some Christians put themselves on, is the reality of who we are as individual disciples of Christ, and what all that means. However, it’s not just individual Christians and Jews who are significant and important in the vision of God but, if we believe that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), then God loves everyone. We were, after all, created in His image, each of us, as individuals, as single, tiny, frail, and frightened human beings. He loves us and cares for us, whether we acknowledge His existence or not.
And He loves us so much, all humanity, each and every person, that He made it possible for us all to be aware of Him, to know Him (to the best of our ability and comprehension), and to love Him.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. –Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)
We were once “strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV) but no longer. Not because we are just part of humanity but because each and every one of us as an individual person was crafted by God’s own hand. He made us lovingly, He cherished us, He caused us to be born, He’s helping us grow.
and I was created to serve my Creator…
Addendum: As most of you know, I recently attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) 2012 Shavuot Conference hosted by Beth Immanuel Shabbath Fellowship in Hudson, WI. It was fabulous but it will take quite a number of “meditations” to describe all of my experiences, including the wonderful people I met and the very interesting ideas, concepts, and teachings to which I was exposed. For those of you who attended with me and everyone else who want to know how things went, please be patient. I’ll be writing about all this shortly.