Facing Life’s Big Questions
My daughters are asking questions that Google can’t answer.
My boys are at that age when they ask hundreds of questions. Most mornings at breakfast, I find myself googling or asking Siri questions like: If a lion and a bear were in a fight who would win? What’s the fastest car in the world? Who invented ketchup?
My older daughters are starting to ask different types of questions. What is the purpose of life? Why were we created? Why do we pray? Why is there suffering in the world? Big questions. Hard questions. Questions I can’t google. Questions that Siri can’t answer. Questions that I thought about and struggled with years ago, but I haven’t asked many of them again since then.
And as I began to search for ways for my children to approach these questions, I remembered what I had learned from Rabbi Noah Weinberg z”l about searching for wisdom. Keep asking yourself everyday: What am I living for? Before we tackle life’s big questions we need to know ourselves. Know what you know and what you don’t know. What you believe and what you don’t believe. Some things we know with the same kind of certainty that we know our own hands, so figure out what you do know with “five-finger” clarity. Actively pursue wisdom everyday but don’t try to figure out everything on your own. That would waste time and energy. We need to learn from others and from experiences. We need mentors. We need the guidance of the Torah and our sages.
I am encouraging my children to ask their probing questions and to search for satisfying answers.
But as Rav Noah said: “The Torah wants us to think. Which means: Believe in the rabbis, but don’t put your mind in deep freeze. Though the Sages are not infallible, they are still the best source of truth we have available today. They have the deepest understanding of the Torah. Study what they say.”
With these guidelines, I began to search with my children for some answers, but one of the most crucial parts of the journey is respecting the depth and importance of the questions. How we can face these questions at one stage of life and find answers that we may need to revisit as we grow. How we should never stop searching and asking. How we should be bothered by ignorance. We should run after truth and wisdom.
When we ask what the purpose of life is, it is not just a philosophical debate. For example, one of the best answers that I have ever found to the question of life’s purpose comes from the Path of the Just by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato. He teaches us that God created this world to give us pleasure. And the highest form of pleasure we can ever experience is the deep, spiritual pleasure of connecting with the Divine, basking in the pleasure of connecting with the Infinite. That’s why we were created. That answer can transform how we prioritize our lives. If God created us to give us pleasure, then everything we have suddenly looks like a gift instead of an obstacle. Life becomes an invitation for closeness instead of a confusing chaos of distance.
There are many ways to answer this question; the point is to allow the answers to change us. And to keep searching until we find the wisdom that helps us grow.
When one of my children asked me why there is so much suffering in the world, I took a deep breath and thought about the brutal terror attacks in Israel and how we all must face this question every day to some extent. Dr. Avraham Twerski said that he has had clients ask him that question in different ways for years. I remember his answer that I heard years ago. He said: I don’t know. I don’t know why there is suffering, but I’ve never seen a strong person with an easy past. We don’t grow from happiness. We grow from struggle. Why is it this way? I don’t know. But we know that we can take our suffering and use it to grow.
These answers will not be the last step in our children’s quests for meaning and wisdom. They are beginnings. They will use their questions to propel their search with the wisdom of Judaism as their guide.