Coping with Problems: The Real Purpose of Life

The best way to handle a problem is to solve it, but not
every problem can be solved, and even the problems that can be solved often
cannot be solved immediately. So when a problem arises, one often has to endure
it even if it will be solved. One has to know how to deal with a problem that is
not going to go away. He has to know how to live with problems.

How should a person look at problems? Most people regard
problems as undesirable, and feel that life would be much better without having
to deal with problems. Many people move from place to place, from community to
community because they are chasing the elusive goal of not having any problems.
But there is no place in this world where there are no problems. To live is to
cope with problems. The midrash at the beginning of Parshas Shmini says that
happiness doesn’t stay around for anybody. No one lives in a continuous state
of happiness.

G-d created the world to provide Him with an opportunity to
shower goodness upon His creatures in such a way that they would recognize that
goodness and appreciate it. Now, we don’t appreciate things that come easily.
So, paradoxically, to make sure that we would recognize and appreciate (and
enjoy) the goodness He would be giving—the goodness of knowing Him, for that
is the ultimate goodness of life–He had to make sure that life in this world
would not be easy. So he placed us in a situation which presents difficulties to
anyone who dedicates himself to kedusha. And he gave us free choice, so that we
would have to exercise not only effort, but also initiative in order to achieve
what is truly good. All that is necessary for us to sense how good it is to be
close to G-d, and to be inwardly receptive so that we receive that goodness in
the deepest, most complete way. So the purpose or this world is not that we
should feel satisfied and serene, but that we should live in a constant process
of self-direction and self-improvement directed by our knowledge, however
sparse, of the ultimate good that can be ours: a truly close relationship to
G-d. The midrash tells us that when G-d was about to create the world, Shalom
(peace) objected. Why? Because even though shalom—the peace that comes with
perfection—is the goal of our lives in this world, it is not a feature of this
world. This world is a place of struggle—purposely imperfect so that man would
be dynamically and creatively devoted to the good. The world was made perfect
for its purpose by appearing as imperfect as it does.

A person who wants to take it easy in this world is hurting
himself. In the United States there used to be contests which awarded the winner
with the chance to spend half an hour taking whatever he wanted off the shelves
of a supermarket. Could you imagine one of the winners deciding to rest after
ten minutes—to sit around for ten minutes before starting to run around again?
Of course not! He’d be giving up the value time and activity he needs to
collect his reward. So it is in this world. A person who takes it easy in this
world is making the same, silly mistake. He’s wasting valuable time that he
could use to collect the reward he will enjoy for all eternity. Human beings
were put into this world to work. Our happiness should lie in the satisfaction
in doing the work which is our portion in this world. Our goal in this world is
not to be happy, but to be productive and to cope with problems in a
constructive way. This fundamental concept of the purpose of life sets
expectations of life that make it much easier to relate in a positive way to the
inevitable problems of life. It also prevents us from running from person to
person, from job to job, from community to community, looking for happiness that
was never meant to be.

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