Buying a house in Brooklyn? Fuhggedaboutit.

Recently my friend shared with me her woes regarding her foray into the Brooklyn, New York, housing market. She and her husband live with their growing family in a modest rental apartment. For years they worked hard and saved money, and they finally reached a point where they were ready to begin house-hunting. In the interim, though, their neighborhood suddenly became one of the hottest real-estate markets in the country. The cost of housing shot up 500%, and homeownership is no longer on the table for them. It is simply out of their reach.Buying a house in Brooklyn? Fuhggedaboutit.

She became quite despondent as she described all the efforts they made over the years to reach that ultimately elusive goal of owning a home. She felt defeated, as if she had spent ten years of her life chasing a futile dream.

It’s an all-too-common story, a struggle that many families face. And it forces us to rethink some basic assumptions. What does it mean to have a good life, a successful life? How do we handle life when it doesn’t bring us everything we hoped for?

For some people, it’s a house; for others, it may be a job, a life partner or another important relationship. It’s that one aspect of life where satisfaction eludes them, where they feel trapped, unable to fully enjoy the abundance in the other areas of their life.

The Talmud teaches: “It is not the place that honors the man, but the man who honors the place.”1 We are not defined by our circumstances. It is what we do with our circumstances that defines us.

In Parshat Pinchas, we read about the apportioning of the land amongst the tribes of Israel, which was determined by lottery. The name of a tribe would be drawn, along with a slip of parchment delineating the borders of that tribe’s share. Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah, adds a mystifying detail: The lot itself would speak, announcing, “I, the lot, have come up with these borders for this tribe.”

Generally, G‑d does not break the rules of nature without good cause. In this case, having the lot itself speak seems like a completely unnecessary miracle. The main goal was to divide and settle the land—why did the method matter so much, to the point that the lot itself called out the results?

Conquering and settling the Land of Israel is a metaphor for the purpose of our entire existence—to transform the world in which we live into a dwelling place for G‑d. We are each given our own portion in the world to transform, and each task has its time when it will be completed. There are many steps in this process, and some seem to be only a means to an end. However, since each step serves the overall purpose of making the world into a dwelling place for G‑d, it reflects G‑d’s will and cannot be dismissed as a minor detail. Just as the lottery, a seemingly insignificant “means to an end,” deserved its own miracle, likewise every detail of our life’s mission is necessary and important.

Life can feel very disjointed at times, with conflicting demands and inevitable disappointments. The key to maintaining our balance is to realize that while we may not be able to control the outcome, we are able to control our actions. Only we can choose how we are going to proceed on this journey, and how we are going to face the challenges that beset us. We may not want to put in so much effort; we may feel ready to move on. But if we find ourselves stuck in one place, that’s a sign that there’s still work to be done where we are.

A chassid who lived in Russia once came to the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad rebbe, and asked him for permission to settle in Israel, so that he could further his spiritual development. The Tzemach Tzedek answered him, “Mach doh Eretz Yisroel. Make this place Israel.”

The Tzemach Tzedek was not dismissing the chassid’s aspiration to live in Israel. But with this response he was saying, “Why are you rushing off to Israel? Have you already accomplished everything that you need to do here? Have you transformed your own surroundings into a place that exudes holiness?”

The Rebbe related a story with a similar theme: A group of young men were at a chassidic gathering with the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe, the Rebbe Rashab, who was preparing to say a chassidic discourse. Before he said the discourse, the chassidim What does it mean to have a good life, a successful life?sang a traditional preparatory melody. As they were very eager to hear the discourse, they sang the melody rather hastily. The Rebbe Rashab was not pleased with this, and he told them, “A chassid is a pnimi, an inwardly focused person. Wherever he is, whatever he does, he is completely there at that moment. He does not view one matter as a mere preparation for another matter. Rather, each thing that he is involved with gets his full attention.”

There are many times when we look around and feel that we would be much better off somewhere else, living under different conditions. And that may be true. But sometimes the key to reaching that other place, wherever it may be, is completing all that needs to be done in the here and now. We need to utilize every moment to its fullest, and this in itself creates the changes that carry us into the next stage.

As Jewish people, we have been awaiting the redemption for a very, very long time. And the long wait has worn us down, made us very impatient, maybe even a bit skeptical. But if we are still here, that means we still have more to do here, and we need to do it with full concentration and focus. In this way, we can bring the redemption into the here and now, until it becomes part of our reality. Then G‑d will grant us the hoped-for blessings in full—peace in our homes, our lives and the entire world.