July 17, 2024
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Identifying Your Passions

Your talents, skills, abilities and interests, as well as your other resources, indicate what Hashem has called on you to do while you’re in the world, while you’re “on stage.” They define your why.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that humans have a number of needs that must be addressed in order to live healthy, fulfilling lives. First, basic needs must be taken care of: physiological needs, safety needs and love/social belonging needs. Once a person has comfortably addressed these basic requirements, he is able to move on to more elevated goals: the need for esteem, feelings of both self-respect and respect from others. Finally, at the top of the pyramid, is the desire for self-actualization: “What a man can be, he must be.”1 One of the most powerful motivators in a person’s life is the feeling that they are developing an essential part of who they are. While it is difficult to identify what sits at a person’s core that needs to be expressed in order to reach this feeling of self-actualization, finding some part of it allows for this type of powerful experience.

With a worldview based on service, identifying what you’re passionate about takes on new meaning. Rather than being an indication of what career to invest in or what hobbies to pursue, it answers the question, “What does God want me to do with my life? Why did He call me to the stage at this time?”

 

Man’s Search for Meaning

This idea lies at the foundation of what Victor Frankl called a “fundamental change in our attitude toward life.”2 As a survivor of Auschwitz, Frankl lived through conditions too abhorrent to imagine. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes the all-encompassing apathy that gripped prisoners in the camps, as if they had become dead to the world around them. From there, it was just one step to giving up on life — which was invariably followed by actual death. Frankl found that only one thing allowed people to hold on to life: if they could identify something to live for, what they had to live through ceased to matter as much. Quoting Nietzsche, Frankl writes, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

One individual, Frankl recounts, was a scientist working on a series of books. Only he had the expertise and experience needed to write this series; no one else could do it in his stead. That realization brought this man back from the brink of suicide. Frankl avers, “When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude.”3 While the challenges we face don’t even register compared to the horrors of the Holocaust, this axiom resonates just as strongly: the energy, passion and dedication of a person who has found his “why,” that which he, and only he, can accomplish, is a force to be reckoned with.

 

Finding Your Why

A uniquely talented teacher of young children, who specializes in special education, once shared with me that her passion for her craft came from a surprising place: her own challenges growing up in the system. She experienced firsthand the devastating effect of teachers and administrators who didn’t work to understand her and instead wrote her off as lazy or stupid. But rather than abandoning the system that had failed her, she committed herself to doing better for those who were in her place.

While this is a more unique example, the idea holds true for every individual. My interests, skills and abilities comprise the “mission card” that Hashem drew for me before bringing me into this world. I cannot help but strive to accomplish it: “what I can be, I must be.”

Disturbingly, I’ve noticed that many talmidim learning in post-high school yeshivas have never really identified and invested in hobbies or interests. Most of their leisure time growing up was spent passively consuming content (movies, Netflix, professional sports and social media) or “WhatsApping” with friends, so they didn’t feel the need to spend their time on a pursuit which spoke to them in a meaningful way. One of the core tenets of the Great Battalion, though, depends on people knowing their unique kochos (strengths) and finding ways to use them to contribute to the klal. We need parents to set limits on technology use not just because of the challenges posed by the technology itself, but also because of what it precludes: developing hobbies and passions. By limiting passive entertainment, parents can make space for music, creative arts, hands-on crafts like woodworking, physical development such as sports with friends, biking, or martial arts or investigating different areas of interest — anything the child can develop a passion and excitement for.

 

Building the Mishkan, Building the World

We asked what we are meant to do with the Rav’s “Halachic Man” worldview. Bnei Yisrael’s project to build the Mishkan provided the answer: You count by giving, by dedicating yourself to the national project. Each person is meant to find the subject about which he feels “lifted up by his heart,” where he can use his unique talents and abilities to not just support, but actually contribute to the nation’s exalted mission: a soldier in the tzevaos Hashem, in the Great Battalion. In the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l: “Where what I can do meets what needs to be done — there is God’s challenge and our task.”4

So far, our survey of Bereishis and Shemos has encompassed Creation, Avraham Avinu, Birchos Yaakov, Yetzias Mitzrayim and the building of the Mishkan. We have not yet spoken about what could be argued the most consequential episode of all: Matan Torah itself! What is the role of Torah in this worldview we are developing? That will be our focus for the coming weeks.

Tzvi Goldstein graduated from Yeshiva University with semichah and a degree in Psychology. After making aliyah, he taught in Yeshivat Hakotel for five years and now edits sefarim for a number of publishers. He recently published a sefer with Mosaica Press called “Halachic Worldviews,”exploring Rav Soloveitchik’s approach to developing hashkafa from halacha, and writes at tgb613.substack.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

 

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

2 Man’s Search for Meaning, pg. 76.

3 Ibid., 79–80.

4 To Heal a Fractured World, pg. 72.

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