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04/06/2015 07:14:00 AM



I love answering kids' questions. I'll visit a classroom and face an eager chorus of "Did God create dinosaurs?" "Where do people go when they die?" Then at the end, there's always one wise guy, who smirks and asks, "What's the meaning of life?" I love that kid. I admire his chutzpah, and I love the question.

This may be the last taboo. In our culture, people are encouraged to reveal every intimate detail of their lives, every personal secret. In public meetings, at social gatherings, and if that weren't enough, on national television, people shamelessly share every foible and fantasy, every nuance of sexual adventure and interpersonal sin, every addiction and fixation. We'll listen with rapt intent as strangers recounts their bouts with drugs and drink, his infidelities, broken relationships with parents, spouse and children, the bizarre and the spectacular lengths they've gone to obtain thrills. That's permitted. It's even celebrated. But ask "What's the meaning of your life?" and the conversation stops dead.

Try dropping my young friend's question at a cocktail reception or summer barbecue. "So, what's the meaning of your life?" People will laugh. They think you're joking. Isn't that strange? Don't we all, at some point, need to ask this question with seriousness and reflection? Why the laughter?

A homework assignment: On you way home, stop at a drug store and pick up a package of 200 4X6 index cards, and a box of pencils. When you return home, and you find a quiet moment alone, write down on a card all that life has taught you. In Medieval times, Jews left their children a special will. More than instructions for dividing the property, it contained a summary of a life's wisdom. Write one for yourself. To force your concentration, keep it short, no more than an index card. What have you learned from life? From growing up, from school, marriage (and divorce), from raising kids, making a living, building a community, saying goodbye to loved ones? What has life taught you?

It might take a hundred attempts -- one hundred cards written, then tossed out -- to arrive at just the right words. When you arrive at just the right words, cherish that card. Save it, look at it and update it each Rosh Hashana. You deserve to know the meaning, the lesson, the wisdom, of your life. Each of us, according to a mystical teaching, carries one word in God's message to the world. Wouldn't you like to figure out what your word is? And if anything, God forbid, were to happen to you tomorrow, wouldn't you like your children, your grandchildren, your friends to know?

The Torah portion this week describes a miracle. Moses finds words.

This man who once protested Lo ish devarim anochi "I am not a man of words devarim" (Exodus 4:10), now stands before his people with something to say. Elah ha-devaim asher deber Moshe el kol Yisrael "These are the words devarim which Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan." The forty year journey has not only brought Israel to the Promised Land. The forty year journey has brought Moses to words. He has discovered the message and meaning of his life's struggle. And for the entire book of Deuteronomy, the once mute prophet will articulate his words.

My young friend asks the question and he is shocked when I answer forthrightly.

When God created the world, it was left unfinished. We are God's partners, assigned to finish the work of Creation. The world that we encounter is a mixture of chaos and order, of good and evil, of darkness and light. It is our job, as God's partners, to bring order to the chaos, to bring good out of evil, to cast light into the darkness. There is a corner of the world that only you can fix. You must find that corner, and applying your energies, imagination and intelligence, bring wholeness and healing. In that direction you will find the meaning of your life.

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Tue, August 11 2020 21 Av 5780