What makes a man? Managing life to maximise experience and opportunity and achieve goals - a Torah perspective.
The pasuk (verse) in Tehillim (Psalms 92; 13) states: a tzaddik (righteous person) flowers like a palm. Utilising the analogy of a date palm we will discover what makes a man and a technique for tracking and directing life to achieve consummate accomplishment.
Look at the date palm - consider the unique qualities of each the following:
Translate the above aspects of the tree into time ie past, present and future.
Comparing this to how tzaddikim live life let’s analyse how the past can be addressed:
1. Live in the past - you are who you were (eg famous celebrities who retire from public life.)
Result: not fully functioning as an individual, ie a no growth/ change path - not contributing
2. Ignore the past - too distressing to address, try and act like it never happened
Result: Inability to be sincere or establish deep relationships - lacking inner harmony
3. Integrated - past is acknowledged but the person has moved on
Result: experience is banked for use and integrated as part of the personality of the person - foundation for maximising the present and for ensuring future growth
This is how tzaddikim live their lives. Their past is not prevalent but is seamlessly integrated into their present, their focus and activity are on the present and they are striving upwards towards the future. Finally, their paths are straight. This is what makes a man (a complete person.)
What does this mean? There is not a tzaddik in this world who does (only) good and never sins (Kohelet 20 v7.) Tzaddikim use the mistakes they have made and grow from them by returning from the wrong path, strengthening themselves against the same mistakes and coming out wiser and better for it. Thus they add this mistake to the base on which to grow and move on to the next level. Thus Rav Saadya Gaon did tshuva (repented) for not being on the level the day before that he was on the present day.
Tzaddikim thus integrate the past into their being, but do not linger there (making the same mistakes over and over) nor do they dwell on the mistakes (if only) but instead, by focusing on the present and the opportunities at hand, they are in a complete state of being in the present - opportunities to do good and avoid bad which we are constantly proffered.
How do they achieve this?
By striving upwards and to the future, by focusing on where they are heading, Tzaddikim continually progress and do not get stuck.
What is the future they strive for?
They calculate what type of person they wish to be and what type of life-situation they ideally wish to be in. This becomes the compass that instructs their use of experience and present behaviour. They are constantly auditing their life to make sure what they are doing is aligned with these goals.
Importantly this applies not only in the spiritual domain, but also to everyday life.
The Torah teaches this concept in observance as follows:
Study, commemoration, acknowledgement of past – integration of past into our present:
Present – being, living in the moment
Future – striving for the time when we are protected clearly and only by H’ Himself – bracha for the coming year’s rain and crops
Thus the Torah structures our year to integrate and build on the past, live in the present and strive to the future.
Through a metaphor of a date palm the Torah prescribes an approach to living that ensures the maximisation of time by utilising our past to instruct our present in line with our future goals. This, ultimately, is what makes a man.