Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Sages

Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Sages

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by Simon Jacobson

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With a new foreword and chapter that address the upheaval that followed the events of September 11, this revised edition of Toward a Meaningful Life traces the root causes of our fear and uncertainty and lucidly outlines strategies for recovery and redemption. Profound yet accessible to readers of all backgrounds and beliefs, Toward a Meaningful Life


With a new foreword and chapter that address the upheaval that followed the events of September 11, this revised edition of Toward a Meaningful Life traces the root causes of our fear and uncertainty and lucidly outlines strategies for recovery and redemption. Profound yet accessible to readers of all backgrounds and beliefs, Toward a Meaningful Life provides comfort and renewed hope, showing us how to find solace even as we endure overwhelming suffering and inexplicable loss.

Toward a Meaningful Life is a spiritual road map for living based on the teachings of one of the foremost religious leaders of our time: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Head of the Lubavitcher movement for forty-four years and recognized throughout the world simply as "the Rebbe," Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who passed away in June 1994, was a sage and visionary of the highest order.

Although the Rebbe's teachings are firmly anchored in more than three thousand years of scholarship, the urgent relevance of these age-old truths to contemporary life has never been more manifest. The principles the Rebbe derived from the sages embody a distinctly universal message, calling for humankind at all times to lead productive and virtuous lives, and for unity among all peoples and all nations. The new chapter, "Upheaval and Change," guides us through the challenges of the new millennium.

Toward a Meaningful Life gives modern readers — even the most secular — fresh perspectives on every aspect of their lives, from everyday cares to the most profound crisis of the soul. The book brings the Rebbe's perspective to the full range of life's cycles — birth to death, youth to old age; marriage, love, intimacy, and family; the persistent issues of career, health, pain, and suffering; and education, faith, science, and government. We learn to bridge the divisions between accelerated technology and decelerated morality, between unprecedented worldwide unity and unparalleled personal disunity.

At the threshold of a new world where matter and spirit converge — an age of knowledge and information — Toward a Meaningful Life proposes spiritual principles that unite people as opposed to the materialism that divides them. Guided by the wisdom of the sages, readers discover that we are indispensable and can and must make our unique indelible marks n our common future. A true leader, the Rebbe continues to lead us toward personal and universal redemption, toward a meaningful life, and toward God.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Prompted by the devastation wreaked on September 11 to again reflect on the challenges life presents, Jacobson has submitted a revised edition of his 1995 volume, which shares wisdom gleaned from his lifelong religious teacher and mentor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, fondly known as the Rebbe to his Lubavitch followers and as a Torah luminary to Jews around the world. Divided into three sections-Man, Society, and G-d-and including the addition of a new chapter, "Upheaval and Change," Jacobson offers readers spiritual nourishment to help them experience personal fulfillment and continual growth. Each chapter begins with quotes from scripture and the Rebbe: "The world says that time is money; I say that time is life," the Rebbe opined, and "We are the seventh generation, the one that will actualize G-d's reality on this earth." To best demonstrate the Rebbe's insights, Jacobson offers anecdotes that stress the importance and accessibility of each idea, as well as its ultimate reward. Perceptive and thought-provoking, this compilation of the Rebbe's thoughts and themes can be as useful to the reader previously acquainted with the Rebbe and Torah thought as to the novice. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.62(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.13(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Body and Soul
One Person,Two Worlds

The human spirit ascends on high; the spirit of the beast descends down into the earth.
-- Eccelesiastes 3:21

Man can never be happy if he does not nourish his soul as he does his body.
-- The Rebbe

A man visiting the Rebbe complained of a lack of meaningfulness in his life. Yes, he had a successful career and healthy family, but at the end of the day, he felt lonely and empty.

"Do you ever devote time to your soul?" the Rebbe asked him.

"How can I have time for my soul when I am so consumedwith work and family?"

"There is an old saying," the Rebbe replied, "that when two people meet, it is two souls against one body. Because bodies are self-centered by nature, they cannot join forces -- each pursues its own physical needs. Souls, however, are selfless by nature, so when two people join forces, their souls converge. May I suggest that you and I resolve here and now to designate a time each day to study and pray, and do an additional good deed. This will nourish your soul and give focus and meaning to all that you do, rather than your being controlled by the random forces of your life."

What Is a Soul?

Have you ever just burst out in tears for no apparent reason, finding yourself in deep sadness? That is the soft voice of your soul, crying out for attention, asking to be nourished with at least as much care as you nourish your body.

Have you ever experienced a truly sacred moment, when, despite the constant turmoil of life, you felt a profound sense of awe and belonging? That, too, is the voice of your soul,expressing a deep satisfaction with its intrinsic connection to the forces of spirituality.

We use the words body and soul constantly, in different contexts. But do we know what they really mean? What is the nature of soul? What is its relationship to the body?

The soul manifests the very reason for our existence; it is the one part of our being that directly reflects our connection to G-d, our creator. Even though it is not tangible and is hidden within the body, the soul is the very fabric of who we are. While the body encompasses the material aspects of our lives, the soul encompassesthe spiritual. The body is driven primarily by having its physical needs met. This does not imply that the body is inherently bad; it is not. It was created by G-d and is initially neutral, with great potential for good. But it is the soul that energizes and guides the body to do good deeds and connect to the divine. The soul is transcendent by nature, for "the flame of G-d is the soul of man."

There is a built-in dichotomy, therefore, between the tangible nature of the body and the transcendent nature of the soul. Look closely at the flame of a candle, and you will see an approximation of your soul -- the flame licking the air, reaching upward, as if toward G-d. And yet the wick pulls it back to earth. Similarly, your soul is constantly reaching upward, while your body holds you back with its insistent demands for physical sustenance or gratification. The question for each of us is, Do we choose to be the flame that rises upward or the wick that holds us down?

To be a wholesome and healthy person, your body and soul must work in harmony. We need not choose one over the other, indulgence or abstinence; we can and must merge body and soul. And this means uniting the body and soul to fulfill the mission for which we were all put on earth: to lead a meaningful, productive, and virtuous life by makingthis physical world a comfortable home for spirituality and G-dliness. Every one of us fulfills this mission using his or her unique abilities and talents, whether a person is a teacher or a parent, a businessperson or a scientist. We must all seek to become aware of our mission and actualizeit by conducting our lives from minute to minute, from day today, from year to year in accordance with G-d's laws.

The dichotomy of body and soul is everywhere we look, and there are many labels for it: form and function, matter and energy, materialism and spirituality. In a book, for instance, the words on the page are the body and the ideas behind them the soul. The same is true of every aspect of our universe, because the universe itself is composed of a body and a soul -- its material components and the spiritual components that give it life. So the first step toward creating unity throughout the universe, the first step toward spiritualizing the material, is to first unite your own body and soul.

Leading a meaningful life means being able to pierce the outer, material layer and connect to the energy within. This is not an easy task, for the body operates with sensory tools (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch), while the soul traffics in the suprasensory (emotions,conscience, intelligence, and most important, the subliminal spiritual forces). And the energy within is not a quantifiable energy as defined by physics -- there is an element of mystery to it that defies measurement. It is not just a force; it is the force we call life. And there are elements of life that we have just begun to discover.

Look around you today. It is obvious that many of us are searching for inner peace, happiness, or calm, searching for our soul. But are we using the right tools with which to search? Because we have grown so reliant on our sensory tools, we often feel as though they are the only ones at our disposal.

Toward a Meaningful Life, New Edition. Copyright © by Simon Jacobson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

For fourteen years Rabbi Simon Jacobson was responsible for publishing the talks of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. A widely traveled and prolific public speaker, Rabbi Jacobson lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the founder of the Meaningful Life Center, which builds bridges between the secular and spiritual and helps people discover the deeper meaning of their lives based on the three-thousand-year-old wisdom of the sages.

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