Rabbi Doron Perez addresses the outgoing Religious Zionist shlichim in July 2022. (Photo: David Stein)
A Mission-Driven Life
Our Personal and Public Mission
BY RABBI DORON PEREZ
In an essay simply titled “Shlichut”, Rav Soloveitchik shares a profound teaching that has deeply impacted the course of my life. The Rav powerfully expounds upon a revolutionary idea: that G-d partners with human beings to fulfill His mission on earth.
The clearest source in the Torah for shlichut is G-d’s appointment of Moshe Rabbeinu as his shaliach, his emissary, to redeem His people from Egypt. Why didn’t Hashem redeem the Jewish people without human assistance? Was it really necessary to appoint an emissary of flesh and blood to be the great redeemer of His people? The answer, clearly, is yes.
וְעַתָּה לְכָה וְאֶשְׁלָחֲךָ אֶל פַּרְעֹה…
“Come, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh…” (Shemot 3:10)
In designating Moshe as His shaliach, the Master of the Universe, the Transcendent and Infinite One, appoints temporal man to bring eternal freedom to His people.
Rav Soloveitchik explains that Moshe is the model for all of mankind, for every person is born a shaliach and imbued with a unique, Divine mission. Each person’s birth, in a particular generation, to a particular family, community and nation, with particular personal qualities and traits – none of this is an accident. The unique circumstances of our lives and our distinct blend of strengths and weaknesses together define the content and contours of our life mission.
It is not by chance that this essay is the opening chapter of Yemei Zikaron, a book of Rav Soloveitchik’s ideas about the Yamim Noraim. There is no better time than Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to reflect upon our lives and ensure we are living in accordance with G-d’s will; or, in other words, to ensure we are fulfilling our unique G-d-given mission.
Dual life mission, dual judgment
What, indeed, is our life mission?
Although each of us has a unique role to play in the world, every Jew has a dual mission in his or her life, which can be captured in my opinion in four words: תִּיקוּן עַצְמִי and תִּיקוּן עוֹלָם – striving to better both our individual selves and the broader world.1
One is a private mission where our focus is on our individual selves alone, while the other is a public mission focusing on making a tangible difference in the lives of others. Rosh Hashanah is the time for deep personal introspection, to consider how we are faring in both of our missions.
Two days, two judgments
The Rebbe of Spinka explains that examining our dual mission is the very reason why we observe two days of Rosh Hashanah. Incredibly, we are judged not once but twice; on the first day as individuals, and on the second day as part of the collective. The first day is a reckoning of our private mission and how we have conducted ourselves as individuals, while the second day is a judgment of our public role and how we have contributed to the Jewish people and the broader community. Neither can be ignored; it is not enough to succeed in one but fail miserably in the other, for together, these two judgments represent what G-d wants from every one of us.
On the first day, our personal life is under scrutiny. How hard have we worked to better ourselves, to improve our character traits, actions, and motives? Are we better Jews this year than we were the year before?
But this is not enough. No man is an island and no one can live in splendid isolation, oblivious to those around them. And so we also have a second day of reckoning. We are not only individuals, but also children, siblings, spouses, and parents. We are part of a family, a community, a people, and a broader world. What difference have we made to them?
The Zohar maintains that the two days of Rosh Hashanah reflect two distinct types of judgment. The first day of Rosh Hashanah is called dina kashia, a “harsh judgment”; while the judgment of the second day is called dina rafia, a “weaker judgment”. While the first day reflects the harshness of strict judgment, the second day blends strict judgment together with mercy.2
The first day is a “harsh judgment” because on this day we stand completely alone as individuals. The second day is a “weaker judgment” because we are never alone when we are part of the broader community and contributing to its success. When we ensure that our individual destiny is inextricably linked with the destiny of Klal Yisrael, we can draw upon the merit of the community.3
Weaknesses and strengths
How do we know if we are fulfilling our two missions? How do each of us know what exactly our unique mission is meant to be?
The Netivot Shalom argues that our personal mission is to grapple with our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, with those moral and spiritual challenges that we find most difficult to overcome. Aiming to fix the counterproductive and dysfunctional behavioral patterns in our individual lives constitutes the essence of our personal mission.4
Conversely, when it comes to our public mission, we must focus on very different elements of our personalities – our strengths and passions. When we use our G-d-given strengths, qualities and skills in service of a cause we are passionate about, we can make a transformative impact on our surroundings.
A complete Jew
In order to fulfill our life purpose, we must succeed in both our private and public missions. We must be careful not to lose ourselves in either role to the exclusion of the other, for we must have it both ways. The dual judgment of Rosh Hashanah beckons us to both heal ourselves and the fractured world in which we live.
If we succeed in living as complete Jews, both individually and communally, perhaps we will no longer need two separate days. May we soon merit to return to the original Biblical imperative of a one-day Rosh Hashanah: one day to reconnect with both our personal and public life purpose.
1 Bettering ourselves on a personal level became the salient focus of the Mussar movement. The mission of תִּיקוּן עוֹלָם is mentioned explicitly in the עָלֵינוּ prayer which we say three times a day, and it is also a centerpiece of the Yamim Noraim prayers.
2 Zohar, Pinchas, 231b. This mystical insight of the Zohar is based on a halachic anomaly concerning Rosh Hashanah, the only festival observed for two days in Israel. Biblically a one-day festival, the Sages extended Rosh Hashanah to two days during the Second Temple period. The only festival celebrated on Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new month, the timing of Rosh Hashanah led to many difficulties relating to the process of sanctifying the new moon, then fully reliant on its sighting by witnesses who testified before the beit din in Jerusalem. It was not always clear which was the first day of the new month. In order to overcome technical difficulties concerning doubtful lunar sightings at the beginning of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah became a two-day festival throughout the Jewish world. Based on this practical halachic rationale, the Zohar offers a deeper spiritual reason for this unusual change in the calendar.
3 See the discourse on Rosh Hashanah in Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Michtav MeEliyahu, vol. 2.
4 Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky, Netivot Shalom, first shiur, Parashat Re’eh.
Rabbi Doron Perez is the Executive Chairman of World Mizrachi.