What is the meaning of life?…ask the Rabbi

July 25, 2016 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
Read on for article

Q. What is the meaning of life?

A. I cannot give you a one-liner that will say it all in a few words.

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

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.

Q. Does the name “David” have anything to do with “dod” in “L’cha Dodi”?

A. The two names are certainly connected. “Dod” means “beloved”, and David is a passive participle from the same root.

David was the youngest son of Jesse (Yishai) and was anointed by Samuel after the older sons had all been rejected. He was “ruddy, with beautiful eyes and goodly to look upon” (I Sam. 16:11-12).

AH Sayce suggested in 1887 that David was not necessarily a personal name but a title or office like Pharaoh and Avimelech, and that the real name of the David we know was Elchanan.



Q. The media talk about a “Palestinian street”. Is there a “Jewish street”?

A. Decidedly. The “Yiddishe Gass” is where Jews meet one another. Sometimes it is to do business, sometimes to walk to shule together.

The crucial thing is that this is where much of the community’s affairs are discussed, shaped and decided upon (for the women the equivalent used to be the kosher butcher’s).

The Jewish Street pre-dates opinion polls and may well outlast them. If you want to know what is happening in a community, listen in to the Yiddishe Gass conversations.

But if the denizens think you are a stranger, they might wonder what you’re doing there and the gossip could come to a sudden stop.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles.


One Response to “What is the meaning of life?…ask the Rabbi”
  1. Liat Kirby-Nagar says:

    So, the equivalent of the Jewish Street for women was the kosher butcher’s! That piece of information shows how necessary it was/is for change. No reflection on you, Rabbi Apple, or your reportage, just a reflection on the problems emanating from the historical assumptions of male entitlements.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.