Q. What is the meaning of life?
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.