Q. Why are rabbis often so hesitant in answering difficult theological questions, particularly about the meaning of life?
What is the nature of God? What does it mean to be created “in the image of God”? Does man really have free will? Why do the righteous suffer? What is the meaning of life? What happens after we are dead?
In Hebrew these are called she’elot hanetzach – “eternal questions”. From at least as early as the time of the ancient Greek philosophers, thinkers have sought final, definitive answers to these questions. But they were not successful; otherwise, the human mind would not have continued to address these issues.
We can find partial answers, approaches to an answer, but the last word continues to elude us – because, as it has been said, eternal questions are by definition “questions that cannot be solved short of eternity”.
“Eternity” may be shorthand for God. We can not hope to possess the Divine perspective of eternity, but it is axiomatic that God does. Does this then imply, as the Yiddish phrase puts it, that m’darf nicht fregen – “one dare not ask?”
Not at all. We feel the problems, they will not let us go, we have to ask. We have to keep chipping away and understanding at least a little, if not everything.
Where rabbis are useful in this enterprise is as resource personnel, able to direct people to the test material and to acquaint them with the approaches that have been tried over the ages, even though the final word is still elusive.