What is the Purpose of Life?

Since the Jewish Torah teaches that the universe of which we are part was created purposefully in seven days, RabbiScheinerman offers seven responses, beginning with the broadest circle of our experience – the world – and working toward the inner core of being.

  • THE WORLD: A purpose of life is tikkun olam (the repair of the world); this principle has long shaped Jewish thinking, priorities, and action, reinforcing the obligation to bring justice to others. In Jewish tradition, human dignity trumps virtually ever other religious obligation, and can demand the reshaping of age-old traditions. Our parents taught us that after we picnic in a park, we are to leave the place cleaner than we found it. So, too, the world should be a “cleaner place” for our having lived. Our purpose is to participate in tikkun olam (the repair of the world) to bring justice and thereby human dignity to all people everywhere.
  • COMMUNITY: A purpose of life is to engage in productive and meaningful work that advances community and culture…. Our Rabbis spoke of God’s desire that we “settle the world,” building societies on the foundational pillars of human dignity, justice, and compassion. Productive and meaningful work – whether paid or volunteer – gives our lives purpose, supports our families (if it generates income), enables us to generously give tzedakah (charity, again if it generates income), benefits society, and contribute to “settling the world.”
  • FAMILY: A purpose of life is to participate in the nurturance of the next generation. The next generation is a gift we give the world. Whether we give birth to our own children, adopt children, or contribute out time and effort to the needs of the next generation, our biological and emotional progeny give our lives purpose, and contribute to the community and all humanity. The welfare of all children should be high on society’s agenda, as should support to families raising children – our future doctors, teachers, inventors, and so much more.
  • HAPPINESS and PLEASURE: A purpose of life is to enjoy the blessings of our lives. When we die and stand before the Throne in Heaven, the Rabbis taught, we will have to account for the pleasures we were permitted but did not enjoy in this world. We live in a world filled with wonder and possibility. God’s agenda for us includes joy, pleasure, and happiness.
  • LOVE: A purpose of life is to forge loving relationships. Rare is the person who can live without a close, loving relationship. When we enter into loving relationships, we establish a bond of love, support, healing, encouragement, and inspiration that flows in both directions. Our love gives another a sense of purpose, as their love does the same for us.
  • SELF: A purpose of life is for each of us to realize our full potential. Our job is to become who were meant to be. This is more easily accomplished if we tap into the deep well of divine resources within us (many would call this God), examine and shed the restraints holding us back, trust in God to be our help and support, and trust in ourselves to succeed in realizing our potential.
  • GOD: A purpose of life is engagement with God. For some this means obedience to what they understand to be God’s requirements. For others, this means discovering the God within and beyond (immanent and transcendent) who animates existence. No one has a lock on God and everyone conceives and experiences God’s presence differently. This is not a matter of correct and incorrect. Rather, it is a reflection of the miracle of human diversity.

There’s nothing here that requires one to be working nine to five, raising children, having a leadership position, measuring output against any standard except their personal values. In other words, there’s nothing here that precludes an aged or disabled person from leading a purposeful life. What purpose is motivating your life today?