Just a Half

Have you ever lost socks in the wash? You search for it in vain and are left holding its useless match. My son coined his own term for the single socks in his drawer. “Mommy,” he says, “I have a lonely sock.”

When I heard about his lonely socks, I thought it an apt metaphor for life. Are you a lonely sock?

Are you a lonely sock?

Life as we know it is but half of its full magnitude. The whole of the world was created by G‑d so it could be used to serve Him.1 He created books so we could study Torah. He created food so we could have the energy to serve Him. He created money so that we could help others. He created wine so we could chant kiddush on Shabbat.2Everything that G‑d made, He made for His glory.

This is the other half. The deeper half. The purposeful half.

But I often take sole ownership of my possessions and treat them as if their purpose is merely to satisfy me. In fact, I often view life as if I am here for my benefit and enjoyment. In other words, I make use of one half or dimension of what G‑d has given me and discard the other, deeper half. It’s a lonely sock.

Not Even Half

Actually, living life just to serve myself isn’t just missing out on half of life’s equation. It’s worse, it’s a hollow lie. Life that serves only me, and not the purpose for which G‑d created me, is a shell of its true self.

I may be breathing and living, profiting and enjoying, surrounded by family and friends, but that does not mean that I am fulfilling the purpose of life. I can’t live purposefully if I don’t embrace purpose.

If my food is just for my enjoyment and I don’t use the energy gained to do good, it’s a hollow version of its true self. If my library is just for show and I don’t sit down to study, it’s not fulfilling its purpose. If my home is just my dwelling place and doesn’t have a mezuzah on the door, a charity box on the wall and a welcoming space for the needy, it’s a shell. A lonely sock.

The Lonely Father

We are at the end of the month of Av, the month in which both our Temples were destroyed, first by the Babylonians and then by Rome. Many have wondered why Jewish tradition gives the name Av, Father, to this month when our enemies triumph over our Father, so to speak.

It has been suggested that Av in this context doesn’t mean Father, but First.3 For example, the Hebrew word for spring is aviv, a word that connotes the beginning or the first of the ripening season.

When speaking of firsts, we have an interesting conundrum.Who was the firstborn? Who was the firstborn, Jacob or Esau? In the beginning, it appeared that Esau was the firstborn; only later did it emerge that Jacob was the primary son. This plays out in the month of Av. At first blush, when we focus only on the events that occurred in the month’s first nine days, it appears that Rome and Babylon are the primary forces in the world. Based on that supposition, we would be justified if we were to abandon G‑d and embrace the spirit and culture of Rome, descendants of Esau. Yet, as the month progresses, we encounter the fifteenth of Av, the happiest day on the Jewish calendar. We discover that Rome’s might is temporal and temporary, and their ascendance over G‑d is just an illusion.

In our own lives, this means that abandoning G‑d for a Roman way of life is ultimately the wrong approach. In the second half of the month, we remember that despite appearances, Rome was never the right choice. Life might look like a venue for our own hedonistic enjoyment. Our blessings might seem geared to our benefit only. But ultimately, we realize that is a hollow way to live. It is a lonely sock. Merely a half, if that, of life’s true meaning.

The Lonely Steak

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that a portion of all meat consumed by Jews in the desert had to be designated as a sacrifice to G‑d. In fact, the animal was first designated as an offering to G‑d, and only then was a portion sectioned off and given to the Jews to eat.4

Every time the people sat down to a beef dinner, they wereThey were using the energy for a higher purpose reminded that the purpose wasn’t just to fill their bellies, it was to serve G‑d. Deriving each morsel of meat from an offering reminded them that life isn’t about self, it is about something higher and deeper. In a sense, the very act of eating was an offering to G‑d because they were using the energy for a higher purpose.

Today, we are permitted meat without the sacrificial aspect, but it is no less incumbent on us to remember that we are eating for G‑d, breathing for G‑d and living for G‑d. So let us rise to the challenge and stop living like a lonely sock. Let us live for G‑d.