Unique Neshamot, Unique Missions

I was taught a short piece of the Meor Eynayim (Menacham Nachum of Chernobyl) more than thirty years ago this week, Parshat V’Etchanan and it became a major foundation of my understanding of Torah and my purpose in life.  I’ve relearned it each year and I’m always struck with the radical empowerment it mandates.

He begins by reminding us of the teaching that there are six hundred thousand unique souls which comprise the Jewish people.  Then he develops the concept of the holy fallen sparks of reality, the netzutzot, which are each assigned to specific neshamot.  Each of us has a unique set of these netzutzot we’re given to find, extract from the background and to then lift up to their highest roots in the spiritual realms.  In fact, one can sum up each of our ultimate purposes in life on this basis.

Next he addresses the “what am I doing here?” feeling each of us experiences from time to time.  In fact, as we are better able to develop a sense of constant wonder and freshness, that feeling can become our frequent companion.  Rather than feeling displaced, alienated and unable to function, he advises us that, in fact, God has intentionally brought us to each moment and situation just because there is one of these holy sparks awaiting us.  We can live our fullest, most significant and meaningful life by finding these sparks in each situation, redeeming and lifting them up to their Holy Source.  He goes so far as to say that the very taste and pleasure we enjoy, for example, from food and drink are these selfsame netzutzot!

Ultimately, we’re supposed to fully engage, but in our own unique ways, each moment of our lives.  We’re to search out and engage in that spiritual work which only we, individually, are empowered to do.  We see each moment as a new opportunity, intentionally and uniquely presented to us.

This is the true meaning of tikkun olam, repairing the world.  By each of us performing our unique soul-missions we re-align both ourselves, Olam Katan (the small world) as well as the greater universe, Adam Gadol (the great Man).  There is no “one-size-fits-all” mission, no “one-size-fits-all” method.  Rather we each called by our unique neshamot.

This parsha is always read the week after Tisha b’Av, the day we should most be aware of our all-too-human tendency towards Sinat Chinam, untethered, baseless hate of others which, we’re taught, was the cause of the destruction and exile that began that day.  We are only able to hate people if we first devalue them.  But if we maintain in our constant awareness the realization that each of our fellow Jews, and by extension every person, has a critical and unique mission in life that needs to be done and that only they can achieve, we’re forced to value each and every one.  This, in turn, should bring us to appreciating and loving, Ahavat Chinam, people for who they are and how they are needed in this great adventure that is infinitely beyond the ability of any single one of us.

It’s often pointed out that just as there are six hundred thousand Jewish souls, there are six hundred thousand letters (some temporarily invisible) in the Torah.  If even one letter is missing, the entire Torah scroll is pasul, defective and unusable.  If even one of us would, chas v’shalom, cease to be, the goal of partnering with God to complete Creation would be impossible and the world would be doomed to eternal defect.  Just as some letters are close to some and distant from others, our personalities can be so divergent that it’s, indeed, a challenge to even accept, let alone love everyone.  But just because it can be difficult doesn’t, in any way, relieve us of the obligation.

Today is Tu b’Av, the fifteenth of Av, one of the two most joyous days described by our sages.  It celebrates love and was, historically, a day for matchmaking and weddings (quite a relief, especially after the three-week prohibition against marriages immediately preceding Tisha b’Av).  May we take the lessons of this week and may we never have to fast and mourn again on Tisha b’Av, having learned to love and treasure each other, thus removing the only thing that keeps us in this oh-so-long, oh-so-painful, exile.

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