On a highway, somewhere in Israel. A crowded Egged bus chugs slowly through endless stop-and-go traffic. It has been an extended, tiring ride, and the mood of the passengers shows it.
Somewhere in the middle of the bus, a young hipster leaned back limply, a dull expression in his eyes as he listened with disinterest to the rock music blaring from his oversized headphones.
With nothing better to do to, his glance wandered to his seatmate.
Incongruously, the middle-aged man seated next to him was an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi in full Chassidic garb. He sat with aristocratic bearing, reading avidly from the ancient-looking volume on his lap.
We human beings tend to size up new people we meet quickly, sometimes within fractions of a second. Astonishingly, these rapid assessments are often quite on target (though not always).
As his gaze turned to the rabbi, the young man, whom we shall call Ofir, sensed an understanding and fatherly individual, possessed with a certain loftiness of spirit.
On a whim, Ofir decided to open up to him. “Can I ask you something?” he began.
Haltingly at first, his words gathered momentum as his pent-up emotions cascaded out.
Ofir was the child who had it all. Born in upscale Herzliya, he was an only son of loving parents. His father owned an 800-employee company in Puerto Rico, which manufactured machine parts. Anything his heart desired was his. He was now attending a prestigious university in Israel, and was set to follow his in father’s footsteps toward a successful, upper-class life.
However, instead of being happy, a terrible, dark melancholy had settled over him, and he was barely functioning. He was often late to classes, and could not keep focused on his studies.
Possessed with a deep and penetrating mind, Ofir contemplated the world around him, and the life ahead of him.
He had been raised in an environment without a trace of religion. His parents, teachers, and friends never mentioned the word “God”. But as he observed the planet we live on, and the universe within which it exists, he became keenly aware of the intricacy and wondrousness of nature, and realized this must have been created by a Higher Intelligence.
What stumped him though was for what reason had this intelligent force created the whole world? What was its purpose?
Life, he realized, was an ongoing march. Beginning at toddlerhood, a child learned to walk, learned to talk. Went to school, moving up in the grades, until completing high school. All the while studying hard, and hopefully doing well. After completing mandatory military service, many young adults in Israel go for the “India experience”, hanging out in the remote villages of India to take in the exotic and strange culture and lifestyle. Then studying in college for years, building up a career, and accumulating wealth.
What was the purpose of this journey? Was it to enjoy 20 years of comfort, after which he would begin the inexorable decline of old age? And what about after that?
And why on earth were they living in Israel, surrounded on all sides by hostile nations wishing to destroy them? There was no place in the world to live other than the wild, volatile Middle East?
These nagging thoughts, coupled with the burning question of “Why?” gave him no peace.
Not knowing how to deal with him, his father had sent him to a highly acclaimed psychologist. The therapist tried reasoning with Ofir. The purpose of humankind, he argued, was to uphold the world. “All your efforts and work will ultimately help the entire human race advance, in some form or another.”
But for Ofir, this answer fell short. What purpose was a looped purpose? Where did it all end?
“My friends advised me that the “Datiyim” may have the solution to the questions that are tormenting me,” he concluded his narrative. “And so, seeing you sitting next to me on this drawn-out ride, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to ask. And so I did.”
Ofir slumped back against his seat, spent.
The man looked at him. His expression betrayed a mixture of wonder, pity, and love. He knew what this young man needed. At the same time, he was in awe. How did someone who grew up without learning about creation instinctively sense the truth? If this was not a budding modern day Abraham, what was?
The bus was approaching their destination, and it would soon be time to part ways.
The rabbi gave the young man the contact info of institutions of Torah learning for beginners like him. He knew they could return Ofir to the sublime heritage that was his birthright. He knew that there, his mind would find peace.
The world we live in is wondrous. Yet at the same time, it can be a high-speed train travelling in an endless circle.
But through the study of God’s wisdom, our holy Torah, we touch the true purpose of existence. And there we find the deepest contentment.
So, what are we waiting for?
By Rabbi Pinchos Fried