Seeking Higher Purpose in the New Year

Posted on January 5, 2018 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

A new secular year has dawned, and, as with all things new, it brings the opportunity to greet it with optimism and thoughtfulness for its possibilities.

For some of us, the possibility exists of choosing to do something truly different with our lives in this new year. Most of us, however, will find ourselves carrying forward on a path that has been defined by our prior commitments to family, community, and work. Does this mean that 2018 must be merely a continuation of the things that defined 2017? Not necessarily.

As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks tells us, we always have the ability to bring a new attitude and a new perspective to the things we do, even if the tasks we perform are essentially the same as before. He tells the story about three men who worked in a quarry.

“When asked what they were doing,” says Sacks, “one replied, ‘Breaking rocks.’ The second said, ‘Earning a living.’ The third said, ‘Building a cathedral.’”

One of my favorite teachings from Pirkei Avot tells us to “despise no one and call nothing useless, for there is no thing that does not have its place, and no person who does not have his/her time.” Could this be the year for us to decide that our time has come?

Could it be that we will gain some new insight into our place in the world? This could take many forms. It could be that we achieve some new sense of purpose in what we are already doing. Or, it could be that we will choose to do something different—take on a new task, embark on new learning, or engage in a new act of service.

When we consider the opportunities we might pursue, I urge us to consider what Rabbi Sacks suggests as a guiding principle. Like the person who saw his work in the quarry as serving a higher purpose, let us look for higher meaning in the things we do. Let us seek to make even our small, seemingly mundane acts glow with a sense of sacred duty to do our best and to make a difference. As Rabbi Sacks said, let us seek out those places where “what we want to do meets what is crying out to be done.”

May each of us find many blessings in 2018, and may we find many ways to be a blessing to others.


Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck

Originally published in the January-February 2018 Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.