I’m standing in the middle of Neiman Marcus Last Call, a designer overstock outlet. Rack after rack of random sale items, squashed onto the floor of a warehouse-like, oxygen-depleted arena—exactly the kind of store to make me feel dizzy and breathless. What sort of method could there be to this madness? I find myself longing desperately for the car I left in the sea-like parking lot, and the freedom of the highway drive home.

Shopping. You either hate it or you love it. When I hate it, it’s because of the unpredictability of futile shopping days. When I love it, it’s for the delight of unexpected finds.

It’s a lot like life. You plan, but you never really can predict. You find or you fail, but you’ve just got to keep looking. “G‑d guides the footsteps of man,” says Psalms,1 and the teachings of Chassidism continue, “to encounter every spark it is his You find or you fail, but you’ve just got to keep lookingportion to redeem.”2 In other words, there’s a particular “shopping bag” of life experiences, encounters and acquisitions that each of us is intended to bring home.

Kabbalah and Chassidism teach that physical reality is strewn with G‑dly sparks—sparks of holiness in exile. By interacting in a G‑dly, positive way with whatever holds that spark captive, we have the power to redeem that spark and let it shine. By eating an ice-cream cone in a refined way and saying the blessing before and after, we elevate that ice cream, redeeming its holy potential. Every apartment that we live in, journey that we make, and pair of sneakers that we lace up can be elevated to its holy potential, freeing its innate spark.

But which particular ice cream, apartment, highway or pair of sneakers we use is not random. Lost sparks of holiness are allotted to every soul, and it is our task to encounter and elevate our own “portion” of the world.

The Baal Shem Tov’s message about hashgachah pratit, divine providence, is that we will all find our way to our portion of the world and the sparks that await us. Our divinely ordained journeys through life will lead us to what is ours to bring home.

A Talmudic sage named Rav Yosef once commented, “If not for that day [when the Torah was given], how many Yosefs would there be in the marketplace?”3

Interestingly, Yosef (Joseph) must have been a popular name in Talmudic times, just as it is today. Without the Torah, Rav Yosef feared, who would he be? Just another Joe.

What is the significance of a marketplace? The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that Rav Yosef saw it as a metaphor for life, a place where we Who would he be? Just another Joebuy, sell, shift, move. From one domain to another. Mine. Yours. G‑d’s.

Our “business,” our life’s mission, is to sanctify all the fragments of reality within our reach, acquiring them for G‑d. And it is the Torah that gives us specific guidelines for how to do so: Sanctify your fields by leaving a portion for the poor, not working the land during the seventh Sabbatical year, and treating your farmhands fairly. Sanctify your interactions by loving your fellow, extending yourself to the orphaned and widowed, and making peace between one man and another. And so on.

Rav Yosef credited the Torah with giving him purpose. Without it, he feared, he’d be lost in the teeming, dizzying, enticing and maddening marketplace of life. Another Joe, oblivious to the “why” of it all.

Similarly, a popular chassidic song goes, “Hey, Mark! What are you doing in the market? You don’t buy, you don’t sell—all you do is cause trouble!”

Mark (the Slavic Joe) is the rabble-rouser, the nogoodnik, who doesn’t know what the marketplace is for. He represents the part in all of us that pulls us down, that wastes time—the animal soul. The song is really asking, “How am I interacting in the marketplace of life? What goods have I purchased? What am I bringing home for What goods have I purchased?G‑d?”

The song’s folksy verses are followed by a very deep verse from Psalms: “My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You—Tzam’ah lecha nafshi; kamah lecha besari.” I long to find You, G‑d. Show me where.

When I’m searching for G‑d in the mundane, I realize that even an everyday purchase is not random. The purse I bought at a no-return, last-markdown sale before finding one I preferred for a better price at just the next store was somehow meant to be mine, meant to be used for a higher purpose.

With this added perspective, shopping is starting to grow on me. I’m learning to welcome the surprises, the unexpected turns and encounters, and to bring home what was mine—His, rather—all along.