The other day something happened. An event that meant little when it occurred, but upon reflection came to mean a great deal.

I was entering the post office with a mountain of envelopes balanced precariously on my arms. Taking in the perilous state of my load, a girl of perhaps nine offered to help. Touched by her uncommon courtesy, I thanked her kindly, but demurred.

On my way out of the post office she asked if she could interest me in chocolate covered almonds. I realized at once that she was collecting for a cause and, though I had to refuse her non-kosher almonds, I made a donation. This time it was her turn to be taken aback and she thanked me for the kindness of my free gift.

I realized at once that she was collecting for a cause In the car I felt a little guilty; I was not entitled to her compliment. My generosity was the product of her thoughtfulness, not my kindness; I had given it out of gratitude. Had she not broken through my earlier reverie, I would not even have noticed her. Rather than regard her as a real person with hopes, dreams and aspirations, I would have viewed her request as a passing nuisance to be avoided. Rather than regard her as a girl so driven by a cause as to stand under the hot sun and solicit perfect strangers, I would have regarded her as just another person after my money.

To be fair, I think the shoe fit equally on the other foot. Had I not staggered under my load at that moment, she might not have regarded me as a real person with a pressing need to mail letters, but as just another mark, a potential consumer of her product.

Her thoughtfulness changed all that; it turned our causal encounter into a meaningful exchange. I realized that she was a real person and not just a passing prop on the stage of my life. She (hopefully) realized the same about me.

A Grand Stage

As I mulled over our interaction I realized that something even more dramatic had occurred. It was not only about us recognizing each other as real human beings; it was about expanding our respective horizons to include others. When I first emerged from my car, my only reason to enter the post office was to mail my envelopes. To her, the purpose of my entering the office was to present her with a potential consumer or donor. We were each wrapped up in our own little worlds. Our encounter helped us realize that the world is larger than the respective sagas of our individual lives.

There is a stage far grander than any one parochial need; on this stage sits a grand maestro, who conducts a symphony of events—each supporting the next, each intertwining with the next, and each fulfilling one more element of the Divine ultimate goal.

We each play a role in the fulfillment of this goal and for the purpose of that fulfillment we were both meant to meet. Our meeting was greater than our individual interests. In fact, so grand and transcendent was its purpose that neither of us knew its true meaning. It is like a musician who produces a melody so beautiful and moving that even he cannot discern its full magnitude.

Our raison d'être is to endow daily life with higher purposeWho knows, perhaps the purpose served by our encounter was to bring us to this very realization. Perhaps G‑d intended to bring two strangers together who would have every reason to pass each other like ships in the night, but who paused long enough to realize that the stage on which our lives are played out is greater than ourselves. We exchanged not a single further word, but the impact of this meeting was deep.

Beneath The Outer Layer

Tearing the veil off our seemingly prosaic life to reveal the depth of purpose that lies beneath is the quintessence of Jewish living. Our raison d'être is to endow daily life with higher purpose. To channel our every encounter into our service of the Divine and to recognize that our shallow perception of life's purpose masks a depth of infinite meaning.

Removing this veil is the essence of circumcision, a mitzvah that is performed by removing the foreskin. Circumcision is not limited to the physical organ; the Torah also instructs us to engage in emotional circumcision by removing the foreskin of our hearts.1

The heart's foreskin is the veil of narcissism that casts a selfish shadow on our lives. It is the false notion that the world revolves around us. My needs and goals are superior to all and must therefore command all available resources. With this attitude it is nearly impossible to serve G‑d with a full heart. G‑d becomes a mere resource that provides for my needs.

Removing the foreskin that covers our heart enables us to worship with a full heart. It enables us to discover that life is a grand stage set by the architect of creation. On this stage there are innumerable actors; each playing out a different script. Each thinks that their aspirations and needs are the sole reason for the entire stage. Yet when the heart's foreskin is removed and the truth is revealed each actor discovers that they and their needs are in fact subordinate to the highest cause of all—G‑d's cause.

And by serving a cause greater than ourselves we in fact become greater than ourselves.2