Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi -The meaning of life.


Q. What is the meaning of life?

A. I cannot give you a one-liner that will say it all in a few words.

What I can do is to quote Richard Rubenstein, who argues that after the Holocaust we have to say life is absurd, an indifferent wasteland, a “cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos”.

I don’t support what he says, not just because I don’t like it. But because there is sunshine as well as shade, progress as well as regress, love as well as cruelty, joy as well as sorrow, one has no right to dismiss life as a meaningless fraud.

When as a boy I asked your question of my teacher, Dr Samuel Billigheimer, he told me, “The meaning of life is to obey God’s will”, I felt let down because it sounded like a stock religious answer.

Years have passed, and I think Dr Billigheimer was right. I might phrase his words differently but the way I would handle the question would more or less accord with his.

I would say life is a gift – so let’s use it. Life is an opportunity – let’s utilise it. Life is a test – let’s try to pass it.

How will we know that we have made something of life?

The criterion comes in two stages. The ultimate stage is in the World to Come when we hear judgment passed on us.

The interim stage is suggested by the Mishnaic statement (Ber. 5:5) that if a person’s prayer is fluent in his mouth he knows that his prayer has been accepted – i.e. our own instinct tells us what we need to know about ourselves.


Q. Does the name “David” have anything to do with “dod” in “L’cha Dodi”?

A. The two names are certainly connected. “Dod” means “beloved”, and David is a passive participle from the same root.

David was the youngest son of Jesse (Yishai) and was anointed by Samuel after the older sons had all been rejected. He was “ruddy, with beautiful eyes and goodly to look upon” (I Sam. 16:11-12).

AH Sayce suggested in 1887 that David was not necessarily a personal name but a title or office like Pharaoh and Avimelech, and that the real name of the David we know was Elchanan.


Q. The media talk about a “Palestinian street”. Is there a “Jewish street”?

A. Decidedly. The “Yiddishe Gass” is where Jews meet one another. Sometimes it is to do business, sometimes to walk to shule together.

The crucial thing is that this is where much of the community’s affairs are discussed, shaped and decided upon (for the women the equivalent used to be the kosher butcher’s).

The Jewish Street pre-dates opinion polls and may well outlast them. If you want to know what is happening in a community, listen in to the Yiddishe Gass conversations.

But if the denizens think you are a stranger, they might wonder what you’re doing there and the gossip could come to a sudden stop.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

Check Also

The Jewish countdowns – Shavu’ot

THE JEWISH COUNT-DOWNS The countdown to Shavu’ot is the 49 days of the Omer. Beginning …