Jewish Wisdom (not just) for Graduates


With university commencement season upon us, assorted pundits are appearing on local campuses to offer their self-help spiels. In reality, some of the best advice for graduates comes from our own Jewish wisdom. So in the spirit of America’s sound-bite culture and Hillel’s famous feat of summing up the Torah in one sentence (“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”), JInsider offers some concise bits of Jewish wisdom in this week’s column. Here’s a taste on how to find one’s own purpose:

Find your Passion

If you can find something that you are personally passionate about, that you think plays into your interests and your talents, and on top of all that you feel like you are giving back in some way, you’ve hit a grand slam. The best thing is to go through life and feel like you get up knowing that the work you are doing excites you and you think its important. Also, whether it’s the work or what the work allows you to do, you feel you are helping people along the way.

– Neal Shapiro is president of WNET-TV and former president of NBC News.

Search and You Will Find

The looking is the finding. Search. It’s not a pot of gold under the rainbow, but as you search, you develop your traits, you develop your skills, you develop your philosophy of life — which is to search! Too many people don’t search. Everything is taken for granted: This is the way the world is. So I think we have to search for a purpose. Many people will find the humanistic purpose: My purpose in life is trying to make life better for others, my purpose in life is trying to do something about the environment, to avoid acid rain, OK, whatever, my purpose in life is trying to do something about famine in Ethiopia. You can find a purpose, but you have to look for a purpose. Too often people just go along, traveling from day to day, without giving any thought on purpose.

– Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski is a prolific author and a psychiatrist
specializing in substance abuse.

No Duplicates

Everyone has a unique mission in life. No one is a duplicate. We are all custom-made by God. Propelled unto this planet for a special mission, for a purpose. And we all have to leave behind a calling card — we all have to know that because of us, the world was a little bit better. It became finer, we touched some people, we touched some hearts, we made a difference. We didn’t just grab and take. We made a difference in the lives of others.

– Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis is the founder and president of the Hineni outreach movement and a renowned author and speaker.

Open Mind and Heart

We need to have an open mind and an open heart. An open mind is not enough; you need an open heart. You need to make yourself vulnerable and from that place of vulnerability you need to allow the wisdom of other people, whether through friends, partners, teachers, books or wisdom literature. If you don’t have that open mind and if you don’t have that vulnerable heart, you and your ego will not allow room for that stuff to infuse your soul.

– Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein is the author of nine books, most recently “The Challenge of the Soul: A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior” and rabbi emeritus of The New Shul in Manhattan.

Intersection of Wants and Needs

If you want to find your purpose in life, think about the following sentence: Where what you want to do meets what needs to be done. That is where God wants us to be. So many of us have passions – and if you don’t have a passion, take some time out to think what would really be a life you would live for. But in the meanwhile there is a world out there – and that world has need for some things and not others, at some times and not others. And that’s why I say that your purpose in life is where those two things meet. What you want to do and what needs to be done – and for each of us it’s different. And if you get it wrong one or two times, don’t worry about it. None of us gets it right the first time – and maybe it’s not one thing throughout the whole of life. People I really admire are people who live to the full in one role and then they discover, “Hey, maybe there’s something new that needs to be done,” and they shift direction. But you will always know when it is right, because you want to do it, and it needs to be done.

– British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a prolific author and a scholar of our time. (

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