Our lives gains purpose when we find a cause bigger ourselves and we commit our lives to that cause. What a tragedy to discover that your life work was for nothing? Just think about the people who toiled in building the Tower of Babel about which we read in Noah, this week’s Torah portion. They might have been just a swarm of people, but this project gave them purpose. There they were in valley of Babylonia spending night and day making bricks to construct into a Tower. And then their plan was confounded.
Similarly we will read in the story of Exodus that Pharaoh increased the burden upon the Israelite slaves by maintaining their quota of brick production while cutting their supply of straw. Frustrated by their increased work load they came to complain to Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “HaShem look upon you, and judge; because you have made our very scent to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants” (Exodus 5:21). Prior to this decree they were slaves, but they could at least take pride in the fruit of their labor. After the decree their perception of themselves became a reality. It seems that the last straw was not the limited supply of straw, but the degradation of working all the time and not being productive. They felt worthless and smelly.
Hevel Hevalim– Vanity of vanities it just feels that our lives have no meaning when we have nothing to show for our work. This is something that I am not sure I would not be abel to bear. According to Victor Frankl our primal drive as human beings is meaning. Can you imagine the devastation of spending your life working on a tower only to have it be destroyed? How do we know when we are living lishma for our values and when we are just making castles in the sand?