Discussing the “Big Questions” of Life

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by R. Gil Student

My column in the upcoming issue of The Jewish Link of New Jersey

I often hear complaints that the Jewish community does not discuss the big questions of life. “Big Questions” address all-important issues of purpose: who we are and why we are here. Yet our rabbis tend to speak about issues like which blessing to recite on a specific food or how to perform a certain activity permissibly on Shabbos. Without downplaying the importance of these issues, they are minor aspects of a larger framework. We are focused, the argument goes, on small issues, while frustrated would-be intellectuals have to look elsewhere for satisfaction. The problem here is real but when restated, the solution becomes apparent.

Even issues that loom large sociologically are often small questions. When someone discusses whether women can serve as rabbis, or whether active homosexuals should be accepted as synagogue members, he is talking about small questions. Whether women should be released from marriage without a get or recalcitrant husbands should be beaten to near-death, are also small questions. Yes, they are important. Indeed, they are probably life-and-death questions in some cases. But Big Questions are about big-picture issues, how we see the world and our place in it.

Big Questions include: how God communicates with us; what our goals in life should be; why God creates people who will face serious challenges; what marriage means and how it should be begun and ended; how men and women should respond to the divine call in today’s world(s). These may seem like issues we rarely discuss in the Jewish community, but appearances are often different from reality.

Continued here: link

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

One comment

  1. We don’t really have an organized study of anything aggadic, including the big picture. And for this reason, the same people who can critically analyze a halachic argument do not do so when it comes to the Big Questions.

    Think how many of those questions have dialectical answers and people don’t even realize they believe multiple things on the topic:

    Is Hashem in Shamayim, or everywhere?
    Are we in this world to refine our “image” of G-d, i.e. to acheive wholeness, to cleave to Him, to complete the world, or something else?

    And even if you did notice the second dialectic and decided they were all the same thing, do the differences in formulation mean differences in focus and priority?

    Are there bigger questions than these? Do you really think people have well-thought answers that they embraced and live their lives to?

    How many Orthodox Jews have a clear enough picture of things that if asked to write their life’s Mission Statement the big issue would be wording?

    When I wrote “Tools and Goals” I asked:

    When a thinking child asks, as the wicked son does at the seder, “Mah ha’avodah hazos lakhem — what is this worship, this work, for you?” how many of us are equipped to give a meaningful answer for ourselves, never mind to teach to our children or students?

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