Dear Rabbi, I know that as a Jew I should be working hard to prepare to support a family, but outside of humanitarian causes I find little personal significance in most careers. Any goal which does not address human liberty seems comparatively meaningless. How can one compare the ethicality of marketing soap to stopping a genocide? And how can one stomach living near people who do not seem to care? I feel a deep responsibility for my choices. Do I need to lighten up and go with the flow, or can I go on smashing idols? Any references to relevant resources would be appreciated.
A great man once said, "When I was young I wanted to change the world. I got older and realized that it was unrealistic, so I decided to change my country. I got older and realized that it was also unrealistic, so I decided to change my town. As I grew older I realized that it too was an unrealistic goal, so I decided to change myself, and when I succeeded in changing myself, through that I was able to affect my town, my country and the world."
If our focus is too global and too universal we will lose sight of our obligations to those around us and to ourselves as well. In addition, setting unrealistic, lofty goals will lead to disappointment and to a form of pious arrogance, where I look down upon others who are really just good, but not extraordinary people. Working for a living, supporting one's family, giving charity, volunteering for good causes etc. are wonderful things. To be a good husband, father, child, sibling, neighbor, citizen is a full time job and not an easy one either. A profession in which one is able to achieve the above and also to help others is ideal - but that doesn't mean necessarily digging sewers in under-developed countries. It may be being an honest, expert plumber; a caring physician; an honest businessman, providing many with employment - doing what one is talented at, and capable while also being involved in spiritual, ethical growth, study of Torah, performance of mitzvot, and acts of kindness is noble, valuable and, in today's world, heroic. You can impact the world globally through political activism, your vote, your charitable contributions and volunteer work, but that doesn't mean that raising moral children, creating community, and being a good member of that community is not impacting the world.