by Mordecai Plaut
The Purpose of Life
A story is told of the philosophy professor who gave a final
examination consisting of one word: Why?
According to the story, this was enough to touch off long
essays by most of his students. However the paper given the
highest grade was very short. It consisted of two words: Why
There may have been a philosophy professor who gave that
answer an "A" but from the Torah perspective that answer is
Everything has a "why" and a "wherefore." Hashem created the
world for good reasons and He ensures that it is moving, at
every moment, towards the final state that He planned.
Pharaoh, thinking that the world runs by itself, can ask
Moshe Rabbenu dismissively, "Who is Hashem that I should
listen to His voice?" Pharaoh could not see any evidence that
the world runs according to a plan. The forces that he could
see at work in the world were local, small-minded forces. He
could see no evidence of a grand intelligence behind history.
Moshe Rabbenu's demand that the Jewish people be allowed to
leave Egypt to worship a single G-d Who created and controls
the world ran totally contrary to everything that Pharaoh
knew and had experienced during his whole life.
So Pharaoh was educated, step by painful step. He was shown
that all parts of the world do Hashem's bidding and nothing
From Mitzrayim, Hashem was not going to suffice with just
getting the Jewish people out into the desert. He announced
that He would redeem them with "an outstretched arm and great
When Hashem's arm is outstretched, it means that just like
when we see a person overseeing an event with his arm
outstretched we know that the event is the work of that
person, so too Hashem's action is fully evident in the way
the Jewish people go out of Mitzrayim, as if Hashem were
standing with his arm outstretched, ensuring that everything
goes as He planned.
HaRav Chatzkel Levenstein zt"l, the mashgiach
of Mir and Ponevezh, used to say that on Pesach we are
imbibing emunah with our matzos. The emunah
that we must absorb is not just a set of philosophical ideas.
It is something that we must incorporate into our selves;
something that must become a part of us similar to the way
the food that we eat is digested and absorbed by our
The key to this is developing a pervading sense of the
purposiveness of Creation. To know and be thoroughly aware
that everything that has happened and will happen is part of
a Divine plan. This is something that has become seriously
weakened in recent generations, as the secularists struggled
persistently -- and successfully -- to remove the idea of a
Higher Purpose from all modern discourse.
The truth is that Hashem is constantly running the world and
guiding all events. The Ramban explains in a famous passage
at the end of parshas Bo, in summing up the lesson of
Yetzias Mitzrayim, that there is no essential
difference between daily events that we are used to and the
evident miracles. "They are all miracles and there is no such
thing as nature and the normal ways of the world." The Ramban
says, "The purpose of all mitzvos is so that we believe in
our G-d and thank and admit to Him that He created us."
This is a lesson that we constantly learn, mentioning
yetzias Mitzrayim several times each day, and doing
mitzvos that also recall yetzias Mitzrayim. It has
special emphasis on Pesach. If it were easy to incorporate,
we would not need so many means to do so.
Hashem's continuing Hashgochoh and pervasive purpose
is not an easy lesson, but it is a very important one and the
key to living the right life.
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