Thursday, August 9, 2007


I have recently been thinking about, and become bothered by, the concept of fulfilling one's purpose. Or rather, the idea that people so often say that when someone dies, it means that person has fulfilled his/her purpose.

What about little babies or kids who die for whatever reason? Can their purpose have been so small that they needed so short a time to do it? What about people who live long lives - did they only fulfill their purpose at the end or was their whole life one big purpose? Why did they die after so much time? Why not earlier? Were they granted extra time just for kicks? Why not other people, then? Should we shy away from fulfilling any purposes so that we'll live longer?

What about purpose vs. potential. Purpose sounds like we live to accomplish something for the world. Potential seems more selfish. We're working on ourselves to develop who we are and what we're capable of. Do we use this potential to then fulfill our purpose? Can we fulfill our purpose without developing our full potential? Does a person have only one purpose in life? There are SO many people - are there that many purposes that need to be fulfilled? What about little kids who never had the chance to find out their potential? Does everyone have a potential? Do baby's who die or who are stillborn have potential?

I realize that none of you can answer these questions. Nobody can. We can speculate, yes, but we can never really know. It's just been bothering me.


Chana said...

You would have to have a certain understanding of the world in order for this answer to help you, but it is the answer that helps me, so I figured I'd offer it.

Ba'al Shem Tov stories beautifully explain why people die/ are given various diseases/ mental illnesses. This is because they incorporate the concept of a gilgul. For example, there is one beautiful story about a gentile prince who became a preeminent Torah scholar. But upon his death, he was denied entrance to the highest realms of Olam Haba due to the fact that for two years he had nursed and been weaned upon the breasts of a gentile (in contrast to that midrash on Moshe.) He was therefore reborn as a Jew, lived for two years and then died.

The same with another soul who was sent back to earth to rectify a particular sin. The soul protested that he wanted to be constrained so that he would not have the opportunity to commit more sins, but only to rectify the one error. He was therefore placed within the body of a deaf/mute/ otherwise handicapped child. This prevented him from sinning...he then rectified the one particular error and died.

Seeing things from this perspective (souls, not bodies) allows me to understand the world much better. This is still not the answer I would offer to anyone grieving. I would never say, "Well, she died young because she was a gilgul." But the possibility of that happening makes everything make more sense to me. If one views the soul as constantly desiring to purify itself, it returns to earth to fix particular sins from a past life, which is why it may inhabit a handicapped body and/or not live very long. This can be seen in a good light; the soul has successfully achieved its purpose and is now reunited with God.

Erachet said...

Chana, thank you so much. This actually really helped me understand things better and made me feel better about it all. So, really, thank you.

the apple said...

Beautifully written, Chana. I have heard this explanation before, but you expressed it really succinctly. Thanks.