There is a very famous teaching in Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Jewish Fathers) 1:14:
“He (Hillel) used to say: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
הוא (הלל) אומר: אם אין אני לי, מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשו, אימתי
This teaching sounds a bit strange and some people may have difficulties to understand it. Some may even think that “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I don’t care about myself, no one else does”.
However, the Pirkei Avot teaching doesn’t ask a person to be selfish and grab for himself whatever he can get. What the famous saying is trying to tell us is that we should take care of our spiritual goals.
If I am not for myself: If I don’t elevate my soul to higher things, who will elevate it? And if I don’t fulfill Mitzvot (Commandments), who will fulfill them for me?
Man should never be satisfied with himself but constantly make efforts for growing spiritually.
We have to do what we are supposed to do in this world. If not now, it may be too late, as we never know when we are going to die.
This doesn’t mean that a Jew has to be perfect but, at least, he should strive for a connection with G – d. Who or what would a Jew be without Torah?
When a person only concentrates on materialism, he is nothing more but flesh and blood. Our task is to grow spiritually and this can only be achieved with Torah.
Most of us just take our existence for granted and I am not excluding myself from this statement. We were born and now we lead our lives the way we want. Nobody seems to have the right to tell us what to do. The problem is that life is limited and when we die, we will realize that a great car, a posh house, etc. was nothing but a temporary pleasure and that we missed out on what is really important.