This week’s news saw a surprising statistic. It was reported that the rates of suicide for women has risen twice as much as for men. “Typically there’s between 3 and 4 times as many suicides among males as among females,” says Dr. Holly Hedegaard—the head author of the new study that discovered the rise in the rates of suicide from 2000 to 2016. “For females between the ages of 45 and 64, the suicide rate increased by 60%,” she says. “That’s a pretty large increase in a relatively short period of time.” Coming in the wake of the celebrity suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain this is truly concerning.
While the cause is not always certain, suicide is usually an indication that one was unhappy with the course one’s life had taken. Although most of us—thank Gd—will not resort to suicide, it is not unusual for one to be unhappy from time to time with where they are in life.
This is what happened in today’s Torah portion with the Korach rebellion—an unholy alliance of individuals and groups unhappy with Moses’ leadership. 1st there was Korach—a member of the tribe of Levi—angry that he had not been given a more prominent role. Then there were the Reubenites—Datan and Aviram—who resented the fact that the key leadership positions were taken by Levites rather than members of their own tribe because Reuben had been Father Jacob’s 1st-born. Then there were (Num. 16:2) “the 250 princes of the congregation, elect men of the assembly, men of renown” who felt aggrieved that after the sin of the golden calf, leadership had passed from the 1st-born of every family to a single tribe—the Levites.
It’s an all too familiar tale of frustrated ambition and petty jealousy—what the sages (Avot 5:20) called “an argument not for the sake of heaven.”
The real problem with Korach and his followers is also a problem with too many who are unhappy with where they are in life. The underlying problem, explains Rabbi David Aaron (Jewish World Review), is not realizing that life itself is a Divine mission. If Korach would have understood this—teaches Rabbi Aaron—then he would have realized that no one has a better or more important mission. I’m not saying that one should not strive to improve one’s situation in life. What I am saying is that after all your efforts, if this is where you wind up…there’s probably a Divine purpose in that.
If you understand this, then you understand that it’s ridiculous then to ever be envious of another person’s lot. Don’t ever think that the president of the United States is any more important than a waiter in a restaurant. If Gd is with us in our mission, then one person’s mission cannot be more important than another’s, because everyone’s mission is actually Gd’s mission.
Real success does not depend on how much we accomplish on earth. And it does not have anything to do with how much attention the accomplishment gains in the public eye. What really matters is your intention and the quality of your deeds. Did you put your soul into your mission and live your life for Gd’s sake—seeking to grow, striving to become better, concerned about improving yourself and the world?
The great Torah sages taught: I am a creation and my friend is a creation. Just as he is not an expert in what I do, I am not an expert in what he does. Do not think that I do more and he does less. That is incorrect. It does not matter whether he accomplishes seemingly big deeds or little ones. What really matters is whether his intentions are for the sake of heaven.
This lesson does not make any apparent sense. The great sages who taught this lesson made historic contributions to human spiritual and ethical development. Their names will be remembered forever. How could they have possibly compared themselves to simple people who were unlearned, whose deeds could never have earned them world recognition, and who will never be remembered in the annals of history? How could they say that what really matters is the purity of one’s intentions and the power of one’s commitment to act on behalf of Gd?
These sages understood that each and every one of us has a mission in life—a calling. The thing you must always remember is Who is calling. Gd is calling you to be His agent on earth, and the mission He is asking you to fulfill is not only your mission but Gd’s mission.
If we’re all working for Gd, teaches Rabbi Aaron, then there’s no such thing as a small mission. How could one Divine mission be less than another Divine mission? Can either one ever be any less than the ultimate?
f we could internalize this truth, we could free ourselves of the foolish habit of comparing ourselves with others. We would heal ourselves of a debilitating disease that rots our bones—jealousy.
The Talmud (Pesachim 50a) tells a story about Rav Yosef who had what we would call a “near death experience.” He passed away briefly and was then revived. After his recovery, his father asked him what he saw during his brief journey in Heaven. Rav Yosef answered tersely: “I saw an upside-down world. I saw upper ones below and lower ones above.”
He was surprised to see that the next world was all upside down. He saw some people who during their lives on earth were very respected and famous…but in the next world they were nobody. Although these people were once recognized as significant members of the upper echelons of society, they were now considered part of the lower class. He also saw people who in their lifetimes were simple workers but now were prominent members of the highest order. It was a shock to him.
Imagine you are a famous celebrity and wherever you go people look at you in great awe and admiration. Then the curtain falls on your life, and you find yourself in a new world—the afterlife. To your surprise, in this world, no one even notices you. Suddenly you see a familiar face, and it’s your maid—who had passed earlier—surrounded by a crowd of angelic fans. In the afterlife she may be the celebrity and you the shlepper. How is this possible?
You see, when we were sent to this world, we were sent with a mission that was so important the world could not exist without us. We need not cure cancer to fulfill our mission. It just takes us trying to live up to our potential as human beings—to use the gifts and talents Gd has blessed us with to bring a bit more light into the world.
It doesn’t matter what work we wind up doing—whether you’re a doctor or a bus driver, a scientist or a water carrier. What matters is if we invite Gd into our work? Did we work with the intention of being Gd’s agent—serving to perform a Divine mission—being kind and loving as we are productive…or is our life one big ego trip? If it’s the latter, then life will feel so empty that no matter what we accomplish…we will never feel happy with the course of our lives, and, Gd forbid, we will consider ending it all as more and more have been doing.
Bottom line: Gd loves you. He felt you were so important to His plan that He brought you into this world to help carry it out. All Gd asks of us to appreciate the love He has given us and to spread that love where ever we go. If we do so, life will always feel precious. Amen!