Concluding Thoughts on the Jewish Answers ‎

What is the Meaning and Purpose of Life? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 59

			We’ve covered sixty different approaches to these central questions of religion and life: What ‎is the purpose of creation? ‎
What is the purpose of life? ‎
What is the meaning of life? ‎
The answers have covered the entire spectrum of Judaism throughout its long and glorious ‎history. Before drawing any conclusions about what Judaism has to say about these crucial ‎questions, a quick recap is in order. ‎
‎ ‎
The following is a list of subjects with their answers summarized as briefly as possible: ‎

Chumash ‎

‎1.‎	Garden of Eden - Living in simplicity ‎
‎2.‎	Deuteronomy - Achieving God consciousness ‎
‎3.‎	Deuteronomy (end) - Exercising free will ‎

Prophets ‎

‎1.‎	Solomon - Gaining wisdom ‎
‎2.‎	Micah - Walking with God ‎
‎3.‎	Isaiah - Bringing the Messianic age ‎

Writings ‎

‎1.‎	Psalms - Attaining holiness ‎
‎2.‎	Job - Riding the storm of suffering ‎
‎3.‎	Ecclesiastes - Fearing God ‎

Second Temple Period ‎

‎1.‎	Simon the Righteous - Studying Torah, serving God, doing kindness ‎
‎2.‎	Apocrypha - Earning reward in the World to Come ‎
‎3.‎	Hillel - Selflessness ‎

Beyond the Pale ‎

‎1.‎	Dead Sea Scrolls – Experiencing life ‎
‎2.‎	Early Jewish Christians – Love God, love your neighbor ‎
‎3.‎	Philo – Contemplation ‎

Mishna ‎

‎1.‎	Schools of Hillel and Shammai – Taking a personal spiritual accounting ‎
‎2.‎	The Mishna – Understanding one’s own importance ‎
‎3.‎	Rabbi Meir – Studying Torah for its own sake ‎

Talmud ‎

‎1.‎	Talmud Bavli - Revealing the glory of God ‎
‎2.‎	Talmud Yerushalmi –  Doing God’s will ‎
‎3.‎	Talmud Bavli – Having faith and searching for God ‎

Liturgy ‎

‎1.‎	Shabbat Amidah – Contemplating creation ‎
‎2.‎	Blessings – Thanking God ‎
‎3.‎	Alenu – Fixing the world ‎

Midrash ‎

‎1.‎	Midrash Rabbah - Blazing a path for God ‎
‎2.‎	Midrash Tanchuma – A dwelling place for God ‎
‎3.‎	Late Midrash – God awareness ‎

Philosophers ‎

‎1.‎	Saadia Gaon – Being ‎
‎2.‎	Maimonides – Everything for its own sake ‎
‎3.‎	Sefer Hahinuch – Sanctification of God ‎

Commentators ‎

‎1.‎	Rashi – Living up to one’s potential ‎
‎2.‎	Ramban – Recognizing that we are God’s creations ‎
‎3.‎	Sforno – Being like God ‎

Halachists ‎

‎1.‎	Rambam – Understanding God’s oneness ‎
‎2.‎	Tur – Be fruitful and multiply ‎
‎3.‎	Shulhan Aruch – Knowing God in everything ‎

Mystics ‎

‎1.‎	Zohar – Making God’s presence real ‎
‎2.‎	Lurianic Kabbalah – Earning God’s goodness ‎
‎3.‎	Maharal – Creation is God’s adornment ‎

Pantheists ‎

‎1.‎	Baruch Spinoza – Intuitive knowledge of God ‎
‎2.‎	Albert Einstein – Contemplating the mysterious ‎
‎3.‎	Victor Frankl – Searching for meaning ‎

Mussar ‎

‎1.‎	‎ Moshe Chaim Luzzato – Fusion with God ‎
‎2.‎	‎ Yisrael Salanter – Fighting the yetzer hara ‎
‎3.       Eliyahu Dessler – Experiencing God in everything ‎

Hasidut ‎

‎1.‎	Baal Shem Tov – Panentheism (God is within everything) ‎
‎2.‎	Rebbe Nachman – Experiencing amazement in nature ‎
‎3.‎	Peshis’cha – To be a Jew, to be yourself ‎

Yeshiva ‎

‎1.‎	Vilna Gaon – Tikkun hamiddot ‎
‎2.‎	Chaim Volozhin – The study of Torah ‎
‎3.‎	Yosef Dov Soloveitchik – Creating ourselves ‎

Non-Orthodox Judaism ‎

‎1.‎	Moses Mendelssohn – cultivating virtue ‎
‎2.‎	Abraham Joshua Heschel – God searching for man ‎
‎3.‎	Mordechai Kaplan – Seek meaning to find God ‎

Atheism ‎

‎1.‎	Karl Marx – Achieving productivity ‎
‎2.‎	Sigmund Freud – Striving after happiness ‎
‎3.‎	Ayn Rand – Pursuing rational self-interest ‎

Tradition Meets Modernity ‎

‎1.‎	Samson Raphael Hirsch – To belong to God ‎
‎2.‎	Avraham Isaac Hakohen Kook – Elevating humanity ‎
‎3.‎	The Haredim – Struggling against the urges ‎
‎ ‎
A quick overview of this list reveals that about half (31) of the answers involve God in some ‎way (that number could go up or down depending how inclusive one wants to be about ‎God’s role in things).  Of the remainder, about two thirds (21) involved some aspect of ‎personal growth, while about one third (10) were concerned with helping humanity out in ‎some way. (Some of the answers fit into more than one category so the numbers don’t quite ‎work out.) The approximate breakdown of the general goals of god, personal, communal is ‎‎3:2:1. This shouldn’t come as any major surprise being as Judaism has always focused on ‎these three arenas of life. ‎
‎ ‎
This survey, of course, is fairly subjective. While many of the answers would probably make it ‎on anybody’s list, there are others that would not. For instance, not every survey of Jewish ‎answers to the meaning/purpose of life would include Philo or the Dead Sea Scrolls. Another ‎survey might include more answers from the Chumash or the Tanakh and less from modern ‎times. It is also possible that different choices could be made for the individual entries in ‎any category. Also, within a given subject, someone might find a different answer to one of ‎the questions than we found. Finally, even if one agrees with our choice of entries and the ‎sources within the entries for the answers, they might interpret the sources quite differently ‎than we did. In response to all of these possible objections, we emphasize that this list is ‎simply our findings to answer these very fundamental questions. ‎
‎ ‎
Nevertheless, we do feel that this list is fairly representative of Judaism through the ages. It ‎covers all the main categories of Jewish thought, from ancient times up until the present. It ‎illustrates the most important changes and trends that took place through the centuries, ‎including many of the movements that veered off of traditional Judaism as Jews explored ‎different avenues of life. While some may take objection to including atheists, pantheists, and ‎Jewish Christians in a study of Judaism’s take on the purpose of life, we feel otherwise. We ‎strongly believe that leaving these branches out would leave us with an incomplete picture. It ‎might be nice and tidy and monolithic, but it wouldn’t be totally representative of Jews ‎throughout history. ‎
‎ ‎
How do we feel about the results of this project? We do believe that it was worthwhile and ‎hopefully will fill in a niche in Jewish thought that rather strangely was never filled. Most of ‎the answers were extremely interesting and some were highly unexpected. While we cannot, ‎at this point, claim to have discovered any trends in how Jews have thought about these ‎questions through the ages, the consistent themes of God, personal growth and satisfaction, ‎and concern for others, paint a rather noble and worthy picture of this remarkable people. All ‎in all, it has been a fascinating journey – on the large scale for the Jewish people, and on a ‎considerably smaller scale for us. ‎
‎ ‎
That being said, there is something a little disappointing in the answers. As enlightening and ‎as inspiring as they may be, more often than not they seem quite removed from the ‘real’ ‎world. All this talk about God’s glory and oneness, about the mystery of creation and the vast ‎potential of the human soul, begins to sound a little pie-in-the-sky after a while. It’s all very ‎wonderful to expound about the virtues of the spiritual over the material, but most of us are ‎really pretty earthy and mundane. We want a nice hot pizza or a good cold beer while kicking ‎back and taking in a movie. There is nothing wrong with wanting any of this. It is part of ‎human nature and probably always will be. Spiritual pursuits are nice supplements to life but ‎they really aren’t the meat and potatoes. Most people, when they really face themselves in the ‎mirror, would take a good meal over a spiritual experience any day of the week. ‎
‎ ‎
Judaism’s answers to the big questions are heavily loaded in the theological, spiritual, ‎intellectual, and ethical dimensions. For the average person, Jewish or not, all of these are ‎important but none is the focal point of their life. Jews as a whole may tend to be more drawn ‎in these directions than people in general, but the typical Jew would hardly qualify as an avid ‎student of any of them. This may be a reflection of the diminishing role of religion in ‎everyday life or it may be related to an increasing focus on the practical over the theoretical. ‎The automated, computerized world that we live in has little room for a God who presence ‎can only be felt under extreme conditions of spiritual concentration. The bottom line is that ‎the traditional Jewish answers no longer work for most Jews. ‎
‎ ‎
So what are the alternatives? ‎



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