Finding Your Life’s Purpose

And everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit moved him came, bringing to the Eternal his offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting.…
(Exodus 35:21)

Who am I? What is my place in the universe? What does God expect of me?

We might say that the purpose of Judaism is to help us ask these questions and to begin to answer them in a way that gives each Jewish life both meaning and purpose.

Now, right away, let’s point out that when it comes to these big questions, Judaism holds certain assumptions: you matter, even on a cosmic level; your place in the universe is important, and God does expect certain things from you that will help you realize your potential as a human being. This is a major statement! And Judaism makes these truths clear to us through our sacred stories.

Vayakhel takes place when our ancestors
were not feeling good about themselves, because they had made some pretty major mistakes. Mainly, they had really offended God by worshipping the Golden Calf, despite all that God had done for them to free them from Egyptian slavery.

Even more than this: our ancestors were feeling really lost. They were having a crisis of identity and purpose because they did not know who they really were or what they were supposed to do with their collective lives. Until recently, all they had known was slavery and how to be a slave. With every crack of a whip and harsh word, they relearned that they were worthless and that their life’s purpose was to benefit their slave masters.

Once they were free, all of those delusions fell away, but what should take their place?

And so, God gave our ancestors a task.
Its purpose was to redeem their sense of self-worth and confidence. It would help them understand who they really were and what God wanted from each and every one of them.

The task was to construct a portable sanctuary (the mishkan), where our people could come together to worship God. If and when the Israelites completed the mishkan exactly as God instructed, then God promised to “dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). God gave them exact instructions of how to build the mishkan, right down to the blueprints and materials.

God made it clear that to be successful, everyone needed to work together, and each person would have to think hard about what he or she could do to help make this project a success.

People used the skills that they already had, and they brought the best of those skills to their work. For example: if you were a carpenter, then you could bring the best of your skills to carving the doorways; if you were a weaver, you could donate your best works for the curtains; and if you were a laborer, then you could commit to carrying the sanctuary from place to place.

By working together, each one bringing the best of who he or she was to the effort, they were able to build the mishkan, and God came to dwell among them. So here are the questions you need to ponder:

What might be our modern equivalent of our ancestors’ mishkan—the place where people could come together and where God would dwell? Hint: it could be your community, your synagogue, or your family home.

If God asks that we each bring the very best of who we are to this modern mishkan, then what will you bring? What is really special about you? How can you use that for a higher purpose?

Those are the big questions.
Now, go find the big answers.

Excerpt from Text Messages: A Torah
Commentary for Teens © 2012 Jeffrey Salkin.
$24.99. Permission granted by Jewish Lights
Publishing, P.O. Box 237, Woodstock, VT

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed in: Articles