Purpose and Meaning

June 23, 2009

4 min read


Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

"Insufficient funds."

They aren't the worst words I have ever heard but they definitely don't make my day. Wouldn't life be just great if you got more out of your bank account than you put in? I am sure all the physics majors will tell me, nothing in life works that way, that you can't get out more than you put in.

Well, that simple paradigm will explain most of life, and it definitely will help us understand the first line of the Torah.

Somewhere in Ohio:

"How does it look?" asked Jack Field, the worried owner of a new house.

Michael Kinter, the city building inspector, shook his head slowly. "Not too good, Mr. Field. I'm sorry to tell you, it looks like you bought yourself a can of worms," Kinter said, raising the corner of his mouth in a slight smirk of enjoyment.

"What do you see? What's wrong?" A high-pitched note of panic flowed through Field's usually deep voice.

"Well, it's obvious," Kinter said, pointing to an area at the base of the house. Kinter, always one to have a little fun at someone else's expense, enjoyed dragging it out. "You see, it's lower. It's lower than the same point on the other side."

Field stared. He held his hand up to his eye in order to see the angles. He walked back and forth, looked sideways, and even turned a little upside down, hoping somehow it was really the world which was off balance and not his house. But he couldn't escape the obvious. One side of the house was indeed lower than the other.

"What does this mean?" Field asked dejectedly.

"It's got to come down. Nothing else to do about it," Kinter said in an almost off-handed manner.

"The whole house?" Field screeched.

"Yep, I'm sorry to say." The gleam in Kinter's eye betrayed his words of empathy.

"I paid good money for this house," Field protested. "How could they do this to me?"

"It's an old trick," Kinter explained. "A builder comes into town, puts up a bunch of houses using inexperienced workers, with cheap materials and improper foundations. After selling the houses, he skips town."

"But the house looked so solidly built," Field said in disbelief.

"It's made to look that way, at least to you," Kinter said. "But to the trained eye, it's obviously rife with bad planning and construction. And a house like that is unlikely to stand for long."


* * *



Rabbi Yaakov Palatnik tells me if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

Scientists claim that existence as we know it started with the Big Bang. The Big Bang basically goes like this: Once there was nothing, then there was something, then the something blew up. I'm not one to quibble, but truth be told, it wasn't really such a big bang. For one, the amount of space it took up was very small, very, very small. So I would like to suggest we call it the Small Bang.

And it wasn't such a bang either, because there was very little to no space for sound waves to travel in, so let's call it the Small Whimper. But as I said, let's not quibble, Big Bang or Small Whimper, they both beg questions.

To start, where did that first piece of tiny matter come from?

(Hmmm, Tiny Whimper ... no, it doesn't rhyme. I just can't see the people in Sweden announcing, "The Noble Prize for physics this year goes for the discovery of the Tiny Whimper." Nope, doesn't work.)

But, whatever you call it, it still fell apart - OK, went bang, whimper, poof, whatever it did. The question is, why?

Where did it come from and why did it go bang?

Mr. Scientist will tell you - I've heard it myself - that this is not their question, that this is beyond physics, beyond what they can know.

This is clearly not true.

"Whatever takes place without purpose shows, as is well known, no trace of wisdom or power." (Duties of the Heart, Vol. 1, Ch. 6 by Rabbi Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda, 11th-12th Century Jewish philosopher)

There are many things we can know about what happened or Who caused the Big Bang.

That "Who" must have had the intelligence to put in all that came out. Just like my bank, you can't draw a check unless the funds are there. To get a rain forest and an elephant out, Someone had to put it in. In Judaism, we call that Someone, God.

In other words, existence proves God.

But here's the cosmic joke. The claim of a primary cause, causes a primary question: Why? A belief in a first cause, as opposed to the eternity of existence (or a plurality of causes of existence), leads man to one of the greatest question in life: Why? There is not, nor can there be a "why" in an eternal world. What is, just is.

"Why" is a spiritual concept. Dogs, cats and elephants don't ask why, they just eat what's in front of them. Only a soul wants to know why.

It's funny that, in all its efforts to explain the world outside of any spirituality, science itself proves the existence of a soul: yours.

Every human being, or, I should say, every soul, who ever heard the account of the Big Bang asked "Why?" So did every human being who ever heard: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth." (Genesis 1:1)

And every "why" suggests a soul.

So I will leave you with this thought, and I hope I am right. In all the bad news the news brings, I see a consistent and growing glimmer of light, that for each catastrophe mankind asks "WHY?"

And when you wake a soul it's hard to get it back to sleep.

All quotes used in this work are, unless otherwise stated, fictional.


* * *



Question 1: Take a major event and ask, "Why is this happening?"

Question 2: Discuss it with three other people.

Question 3: Take a major event in your personal life and ask "why?" in the same way.

Next Steps