Do You Know Where You Are Going?

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20 Sep 2007

“Yankie, I think we are lost”, my wife announced.

I had recently mastered the new portable GPS navigational device, and I was excited to use it in Chicago.

“Faigie, we’re not lost. A GPS doesn’t get you lost.”

“But I don’t recognize this road.” Faigie grew up in Chicago and had a general recollection of the route from the O’Hare Airport to her sister’s home in Peterson Park. “This is not the right way.”

“Faigie, this is a different way”, I insisted. “The GPS doesn’t have to follow the same roads that you remember. There is an unbelievably powerful computer in this little box, and it accurately computes the shortest path to any destination.”

Ten minutes later the roads were still not familiar to Faigie. “Yankie, why not stop at the gas station to find out if we are going the right way?”

“I don’t have to find out. The days of asking gas station attendants for directions are over. Stop worrying. I know what I’m doing.”

A few minutes later, Faigie suggested we might be late for her niece’s wedding, because we were driving in the wrong direction. I was beginning to get upset at my wife’s lack of confidence in my advanced technological skills.

Fifteen minutes later and still no sight of 5050 North St. Louis Avenue. “Yankie, the entire trip is no more than a half hour. If we’re not lost, why aren’t we there yet?”

Faigie had a good point, but I was not to be deterred. “Alright, there was a computer glitch. These things happen you know. Even computer programs can have bugs. Perhaps there is one bug. But this device constantly recalculates based on the coordinates of three satellites suspended in space. It’s an amazing tool. I’m telling you Faigie, it’s not possible to get lost with GPS.”

Faigie knew I wouldn’t be convinced, so she simply stated her opinion. “We are lost.”

Finally, after more than an hour of wandering through the streets of Chicago, the GPS announced that we had reached our destination. “See, we made it. We’re here,” I proudly proclaimed.

“But this isn’t my sister’s house.”

“Faigie, it has to be. We’re at 5050 St. Louis.”

“Well, it’s not.”

“Impossible,” I countered.

I drove back to the corner and pointed to the street sign. “South St. Louis Avenue. See!”

“I see, but Shaindie doesn’t live on South St. Louis. She lives on North St. Louis.”

The mystery was resolved. I had accidentally selected South St. Louis instead of North in the GPS system. Once I re-entered the correct address the GPS directed us directly to my sister-in-law’s house, which was now about an hour away.

I was right all along. The GPS doesn’t get lost. But I discovered an important principle for using a GPS effectively. I humbly call it “Luban’s Principle”: “If you enter the wrong address in the GPS navigation system, you will end up in the wrong place.”

Hopefully, there was some positive value to the deflation of my know-it-all male ego. Although, I probably won’t become famous for formulating “Luban’s Principle”, there is a powerful lesson to be learned:

Traveling through the journey of life is like using a GPS. If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t arrive at the place you hope to reach.

Although this idea seems self-evident, most people live their entire lives oblivious of this principle.

Here is a simple experiment that anyone can perform to see if they know where they are going. Just answer these questions:

Most people will answer affirmatively to these two questions. But here is the clincher:

Although I haven’t done a statistical survey, I would wager that very few people will answer yes to these last two questions.

Achieving a goal in life without a specific plan is just as improbable as arriving at a desired destination when entering the wrong address in a GPS. It is simple logic: If you don’t know where you are going, you very likely will not get there.

It is ironic that in the business world, it is common knowledge that you can’t achieve success without a business plan. Yet in our personal lives, most people coast through life with no real vision of the future.

If you find yourself with no religious plan, Yomim Noraim is the time to create one. Indeed, in the liturgy of Rosh Hashana, (Shemona Esrai: Zichronos) we state that G-d examines “Maaseh Ish Ufikdoso, the deeds of man and his mission.” In other words, the Almighty assigns a mission to each human being before he or she is born. During Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, G-d examines our deeds to determine how successful we have been in achieving this mission.

Before Hashem Himself makes this examination, we would do well to engage in our own introspection, assessing our deeds and our mission at this time of year. Before the Yomim Noraim begin, sit down in a quiet corner, and spend some time contemplating two of the most important questions of our lives:

It would be worthwhile to record these responses in writing, saving them and reviewing them from year to year. Imagine the impact of reviewing 10 or 20 years worth of these notations, and plotting our progress as we move through life.

A GPS is a great tool for not getting lost. It is too bad they don’t make a GPS for the journey of life. GPS would be a great name for such a device, as it would be an acronym for Goal Planning = Success.

Next time you punch in an address on your navigation system, remember to ask yourself this daunting question:

Do I know where I’m going in life?

If you don’t know the answer, you are probably lost, and arriving at your desired destination will remain forever an unattainable goal.

Rabbi Yaakov Luban is the Executive Rabbinic Coordinator of the Kashruth Department at the Orthodox Union. He is the Rabbi of Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison, NJ.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.