Today, I joined Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time with gritty determination that this time, it will be different. As I sat in the unfamiliar room, I took stock of my surroundings while waiting for the meeting to start. On the wall hung a poster with the slogan: “Keep your why nearby.” Worth the price of admission right there, I thought, as the crux ofWe were cared for with daily open miracles any endeavor is to align what we do with why we do it.

If I could sum up the directive of Eikev, where Moses uses his remaining days to instruct, inspire and strengthen the Jewish people as they were about to cross the Jordan River without him, it would be those same words: “Keep your why nearby.” As long as we were still in the desert, we lived in a sort of cocoon—not just with each other, but also with the overt presence of G‑d. We were cared for with daily open miracles. Foes were vanquished; transgressions punished.

Like a newborn emerging from the womb, however, we were headed to an entirely different reality and experience. We wouldn’t see an obvious connection between our actions and subsequent reward and punishment. We would face individual and national challenges where we would have to rise to the occasion or fall dismally apart. And so, whether in the heat of battle, the challenge of the marketplace or the grind of daily living, we could eventually come to feel disconnected from G‑d.

And instead of dwelling together in the desert an orderly encampment around the Mishkan (the portable Tabernacle), we would become spread out over the land, and eventually throughout the globe, as we would be forcibly exiled from the homeland we were about to conquer. How would we remain a unified people connected to each other under those trying circumstances? How would our hearts break when we hear news of Jews being murdered thousands of miles away, and what would we be willing to do about it?

What Is Your Why?

During the 40 years of wandering in the desert, we were learning laws, laws and more laws. Why? What was the point of it all? To paraphrase Moses, the point is to love G‑d, to attach to G‑d, to emulate G‑d and to strive to walk in His ways.

But what does that look like outside of the desert? Well, it can look like acts of lovingkindness to each other. It can show up as taking care of the needy, the poor, the widow, etc. Unless these tenets drive the “why” of what we do, the “what” will be rather inconsequential.

Give and Take

When we give to the poor, for example, it is not a one-way street; the giver and recipient are part of a bigger reality that embraces them both. Just as an infant needs to suck, so does a nursing mother need to give her milk. And so the role of giver and taker is as one; giving and taking need each other for fulfillment.

Thus, my life does not revolve around a self-centered “I,” but encompasses a greater communal and shared identity, and my actions, which are rooted in empathy, will have a greater and more meaningful impact.

The ‘Why’ of a Relationship

How does this play out in relationships, especially marriage? Successful and happy marriages are based less on conflict resolution and more on sharing (and consciously keying into) a mutually created culture of a shared “why.”

According to relationship expert John Gottman, “Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together—a culture rich with symbols and rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the family you have become.”

Developing a culture doesn’t mean that aThey find a way to honor each other’s dreams couple sees eye to eye on every aspect of their life’s philosophy. Instead, there is a meshing. They find a way to honor each other’s dreams, even if they don’t share them. The culture they develop together incorporates their mutual dreams. And it is flexible enough to change as husband and wife grow and develop.1

And so the poster on the wall reminds me that if I want to achieve a certain result, keeping my “why” nearby will maintain my values in the foreground, so that the choices and decisions I make are congruent with my goals. Without a strong commitment to my own “why,” my behavior will be haphazard and ineffectual.

So ... what is your “why,” how will you keep it nearby, and how will you honor the shared cultures of your life?