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Is Most of My Life a Waste?

Is Most of My Life a Waste?

A Message of Teshuvah

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory

By the Grace of G‑d
Erev Shabbos-Kodesh,
Shabbos Teshuvah
6 Tishrei, 5739
[October 6, 1978]

Brooklyn, N.Y.

To the Sons and Daughters of
Our People Israel, Everywhere—

Greeting and Blessing:

Pursuant to what has been noted about the unique quality and preeminence of Teshuvah [repentance] in that it enables a person to rectify completely all that should have been achieved throughout the past, in matters of Torah and Mitzvos—“with one ‘turn’ and in one moment”—

Parenthetically, it is surely needless to emphasize that the above must not, G‑d forbid, serve as an excuse for wrongdoing, as our Sages warned, “Whoever says, ‘I will sin and repent later,’ is not given an opportunity to do Teshuvah”—

We will amplify the said point in order to make it clearer how much it concerns the conduct of a Jew, and of any person in general. By way of introduction:

On reflection, it can easily be seen that, all things added up, the world contains more quantity (materiality) than quality (spirituality), and more by far. Indeed, the more corporeal and gross a thing is, the greater is the quantity in which it is found. Thus, for example, the world of inanimate (inorganic) matter is much greater in volume than the vegetable kingdom, and the latter is quantitatively greater than the animal kingdom, which, in turn, surpasses by far, in quantity, the highest of the four kingdoms, mankind (the “speaking” creature). Similarly in the human body: the lowest extremities, the legs, are larger in size than the rest of the body, and the latter is much greater in bulk than the head, wherein are located the organs of speech and the senses of smell, hearing and sight, as well as the intellect, etc., which animate the entire body and direct all its activities.

On further reflection, a person might also become disheartened, G‑d forbid, wondering how is one to fulfill adequately one’s real purpose in life on this earth, which is, to quote our Sages, “I was created to serve my Creator”—seeing that most of one’s time is necessarily taken up with materialistic things, such as eating and drinking, sleeping, earning a livelihood, etc. What with the fact that the earliest years of a human being, before reaching maturity and knowledgeability, are spent in an entirely materialistic mode of living.

The answer is, first of all, that even the so-called materialistic preoccupations of the daily life must not become purely materialistic and animal-like, for we have to be always mindful of the imperative, “Let all your doings be for the sake of Heaven,” and “Know Him (G‑d) in all your ways.”

This means that also in carrying out the activities which are connected with the physical and material aspects of life (which, as mentioned, take up the greater part of a person’s time) a human being must know that those material aspects are not an end in themselves, but they are, and must serve as, the means to attain to the higher, spiritual realm of life, namely, G‑dliness. In this way he permeates all those materialistic-physical aspects with spiritual content, and utilizes them for spiritual purpose. Thus, all these mundane, and in themselves trivial, matters are elevated to their proper role, perfection and spirituality.

But in addition to the above, there is also the unique effectiveness of Teshuvah, which has the power to transform—“with one ‘turn’ and in one moment”—the whole past—the very materiality of it into spirituality.

Time is, of course, not measured simply by duration, but by its content in terms of achievement. Thus, in evaluating time there are vast differences in terms of content, and hence in real worth, of a minute, an hour, etc. Suffice it to mention, by way of example, that one cannot compare an hour of prayer and outpouring of the soul before G‑d with an hour of sleep. And to use the analogy of coins, there may be coins of identical size and shape, yet differing in their intrinsic value, depending upon whether they are made of copper, silver or gold.

With all the wonderful opportunities that G‑d provides for a person to fill his time with the highest content, there is the most wonderful gift from “G‑d who does wonders” of the extraordinary quality of Teshuvah, which transcends all limitations, including the limitations of time, so that “in one moment” it transforms the whole past, to the degree of absolute perfection in quality and spirituality.

The Almighty has also ordained especially favorable times for Teshuvah, at the end of each year and the beginning of the new year, together with the assurance that everyone, man or woman, who resolves to do Teshuvah—he, or she, can accomplish it “in one moment”—

Transforming the quantity of the materiality in the past—into meritorious quality, spirituality and holiness;

And at the same time preparing for the future, in the coming year and thereafter, in a proper manner—

Through Torah and Mitzvos in the everyday life,

Thereby elevating himself (or herself) and the environment at large to the highest possible level of spirituality and holiness, thus making this material world a fitting abode for G‑d, blessed be He.

May G‑d grant that everyone actively strive for the above, in accordance with the prayer of the Prophetess Chanah, which we read on the first day of the New Yеar: “My heart rejoices in G‑d, my strength is uplifted through G‑d . . . I rejoice in His help . . . and He will exalt the reign of His Moshiach.”

With blessing for Hatzlocho [success] in all above
and for a Chasimoh uGmar
Chasimoh Toivoh,
both materially and spiritually,

/Signed: Menachem Schneerson/

A free translation from the writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
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Anonymous Encino, CA September 12, 2013

Simplcity of Heart and Soul What I love about the Rebbe's words, and why I return to him time and again amidst the many other voices I follow and study, is his ability to make tremendously complex and far away thoughts, feelings, concepts, etc., so simple and clear. For example:

"Time is, of course, not measured simply by duration, but by its content in terms of achievement."

How brilliant and perfect is that! Sums up a lifetime or a single moment - not just for Jews and our unique role here, but for the entire world as a whole.

28 hours until Kol Nidrei and if it were only spent reading the Rebbe's thoughts, not a moment would be wasted.

Thanks again for the wonderful site! Reply

Anonymous Penrose, Co September 25, 2012

A time for Teshuvah The Rebbe's words have touched my heart very deeply this year. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from the Rebbe's writings. To believe that "with one 'turn' and in one movement", I can be transformed into a more spiritual being as long as I live and do for Hashem.....L'Chaim Reply

A grateful reader Santa Barbara, California October 6, 2011

Transformed in one moment It is always so heartening to read the Rebbe's writings.
In each instance, there is opportunity after opportunity to return to one's true purpose to serve Hashem.
The Rebbe's writings point the way, time after time.
I am personally grateful for the opportunity to read them in print like this and thank and call blessings on those who serve their purpose in making the writings available. Reply

Anonymous Melbourne September 16, 2010

overtaking materiality Thank you for posting this letter. I was feeling very depressed about how much time I was spending working and how little time I had to learn Torah but this has changed my perspective. Reply

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