Grab a pencil and a piece of paper. This is one of those insta-quizzes that psychoanalyze your personality, improve your marriage and solve the world's problems — all in a single go.

Ready? Here goes: Write down the most negative Arbitrary happenstance or purposeful engagement? The difference looks a lot smaller than it is sentence that comes to mind. It should be a short (3-to-10 word) common phrase you might use every day with no particularly malevolent intensions, but which does untold damage to your inner self and outer universe.

Examples: "I hate you." "What's in it for me?" "I couldn't care less." "Everyone does it." "It's hopeless." You get the idea.

Here's what I wrote:

"It so happened that...."

Sounds pretty benign, doesn't it? But according to the Chassidic masters, these four seemingly innocuous words are at the root of the difference between the holy and the profane, and—ultimately—between good and evil.

Holiness is purposeful; profanity is arbitrary. In the realm of the sacred, actions and events have significance; in the realm of the profane, they are adrift in a void of futility. Goodness is the faith that life has meaning and the commitment to actualize it; evil is the denial of meaning and the absence of commitment.

Goodness is the faith that life has meaning and the commitment to actualize it... evil is the denial of meaning and the absence of commitment The difference will often be quite subtle. Two people will look at the same set of occurrences, and one will see a splatter of coincidences while the other sees an intricate and purposeful process. Two people will contemplate an earth-shaking event; one will regard it as a hiccup of history, while the other discerns a milestone in the unfolding purpose of Creation. But they are really not that far apart: the merest shift in perspective will take one from one view to the other. Yet that tiny shift will make all the difference in the world.

In the Holy Tongue, this paradigm shift is represented by a pair of words: vayikar and vayikra. Vayikar means "and he happened upon"; vayikra means "and he called upon." When G‑d talks to the evil prophet Bilaam, the Torah uses the term vayikar--"And G‑d happened upon Bilaam"; when G‑d talks to Moses, it is in the form of vayikra--"And G‑d called upon Moses."

The difference between these two words hinges upon the presence of a single letter—the Hebrew letter aleph--which transforms vayikar into vayikra. In fact, in the opening verse of the Book of Leviticus, vayikra is written in the Torah with a miniature aleph, further emphasizing how ostensibly similar the two words are. Yet the apparent similarity enfolds within it a vast difference: the difference between arbitrary happenstance and purposeful engagement.

We all stand poised, every moment of time, on the cusp of these two faces of reality. At every juncture of our lives we face a choice: Do we surrender to the anti-truth of happenstance? Or do we embrace the divine calling of meaningful life?