Dvar Torah - Vayeitzei

What is the meaning of life?

Usually, we avoid the question because the answer just seems so difficult. If I am selfish, living only for myself, I am overcome with loneliness and meaninglessness, if on the other hand, I am selfless and live for others I enter down a path that has no end. I could always be doing more for others. The money that I spent on that latte I am drinking could have gone to purchase mosquito nets in Africa and I could be overcome with regret.

Hillel's adage comes to mind, "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" How do I choose between the two ends of the continuum? Which path is correct?

The answer can be found in this week's parsha.

Jacob has a dream and in this dream, he sees a ladder firmly planted in the ground with its top reaching into heaven. This ladder gives us a paradigm for life. It isn't either or. That is a false dichotomy. We don't need to choose between spiritual and physical, altruistic or selfish, or satisfaction and guilt.

The angels in Jacobs's dream are rising and descending. The message is clear, for a Jew, heaven and earth are connected. We seek a balance. Help others with between 10% and 20% of your time and money. Pray and learn theology, but, have a job and support your family as well. Monks and nuns are not in our worldview.

The other side is also true. If one is concentrating solely on individual pleasure, happiness will never come. There is always the N + 1: the bigger car, the bigger house, the cooler friends. Take time for others and you will always be fulfilled.