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What are the Most Meaningful Investments?

November 19, 2010

What are the Most Meaningful Investments?

When I was 31, I hit a turning point in my life. My grandfather, a significant role model to me, had passed away. I lived on one coast and the funeral and shiva—a seven day mourning period in the Jewish tradition—was on the other.  The long travel on both ends of the trip gave me time to think. One thing had become obvious to me: I wanted to honor my grandfather’s memory in my life. The thing that was still to be revealed was how to go about doing that. And so began my search.

In the months that followed, I sought out teachers. I met one woman who said to me, “Most children know by age seven what they want to do with their lives. What was that for you?”

The entire concept felt foreign to me. I hadn’t had any idea. But because she asked and I trusted her leadership, I looked back into my childhood. A few minutes later I replied, “The only thing that I remember thinking when I was a kid is that people should love each other.”

With this thought in mind and additional soul searching, it became clear to me that the way to honor my grandfather’s memory was to study and become a rabbi. It remains to this day the one motivating force behind all the work that I do: people should love each other. It seems rather simplistic, and that it should be easy. Yet the world constantly shows us that we as a species have not mastered this simple act that would make our planet one of harmony and community.

While I am disappointed and often mortified at how we treat each other as humans, whether it be how people speak with each other in the grocery line or how societies enslave, kill and torture, I do not despair. My teacher, Angela Thoburn, taught me that anything worth committing your life to, you will not see completed in your lifetime. A possible response to this would be, “Then why bother?”

We bother because each one of us makes an inroad in scaling that mountain. Think about Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. He devoted his life to the civil rights not just of African Americans, but of all people. Where he focused his greatest energy and made the most significant impact is in the way African Americans are treated, and that’s how we remember him. But his vision was much bigger. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, he said: “When we allow freedom [to] ring… we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

We all know that King did not live to see the fulfillment of his vision for all races, creeds and religions. He did not even live to see his dream realized for African Americans. But his work set a foundation and made incredible advances toward achieving this goal. Could you imagine what his life would have been like if he despaired too much to bother? Or what the United States would be today without his contribution?

People like Martin Luther King, Jr. teach us the value of making meaningful investments; investments that help to bring the world closer to our vision. Regardless of the arena, investing our time and energy to help bring a vision to reality will have an impact on the world around us and on us internally as well. As we are working to realize a particular goal, we simultaneously fill our lives with meaning, generating even more energy to continue the climb. And whether we are aware of it or not, we, like my grandfather, become role models for others in our lives, inspiring them to take up the challenge with us or after us.

In the ancient Jewish text, Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not upon us to complete the task.” Investing in the work, however, will give great meaning to our lives while making a contribution to scaling that mountain.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in: “What’s the Point of Having a Purpose?”

We post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The topic on Monday will be “Human Being or Human Becoming?”

Robin Damsky

Robin Damsky is the rabbi of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, Illinois, and co-author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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