web analytics
January 31, 2015 / 11 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

The Question For Our Age


It is a question that marks the beginning of a new era in our history. Its enormous depth, concealed by its simplicity, penetrates all spheres – the past and the future, the tangible and the abstract, the individual and the nation. Yet it remains a question unanswered until this very day: “How?” Or in the language of Jeremiah the prophet, “eicha?”

In a few days, Jews worldwide will be mourning the destruction of both holy temples which occurred 656 years apart but on the same bitter date of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av.

Upon the destruction of the second Temple, our nation’s very survival was cast into doubt. Our relentless enemies continued to menace our people with a combination of profound hatred and cruel force. Acceptance was replaced by persecution, tolerance by expulsion, comfort by distress.

Yet, surprisingly, our Sages chose to commemorate these bitter times not by asking “why,” as many often shout when sorrow strikes. Rather, they preferred to focus on the question of “how?”: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave” (Lamentations 1:1). 

Scientists and philosophers say that most questions concerning the enigma of our existence can be condensed into three fundamental words: what, why and how. “What” strives to understand the core of ideas and entities. “Why” is a quest for purpose and meaning. “How” aims to uncover the reason beneath the surface of things.

My dear teacher Rabbi, Adin Steinsaltz once explained that two of the world’s leading disciplines, mathematics and science, are based on these very questions. “Mathematics,” he said, “asks ‘what’ through infinite calculations that seek to explore the essence of things, while science asks ‘why’ and ‘how’ by examining their reaction.”

Yet unlike the first two questions, the third elemental question of “how” has not been emphasized enough outside the world of science. It is often overlooked, though its resonance has never been louder. It is yelled by innumerable people, societies, foundations and organizations that wish to learn, to progress, and even to give of themselves, but they just do not know “how.”

The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre expressed this idea poignantly: “Everything has been figured out, except how to live.”

Interestingly, these questions are parallel to the three developmental stages of human life. During our childhood, we ask the “what” question. As we grow into our teen years, the question suddenly switches from “what?” to “why?” Unfortunately, the “whys” of teenagers are oftentimes misinterpreted as acts of rebellion, and we forget that their principal desire is to genuinely explore the reasons for everything.

Eventually, as we transition to adulthood, the question of “how” takes center stage. Questions such as “How can I get married?” and “How can I find a job?” and “How can I pay my bills?” quickly become an integral part of our everyday vocabulary.

The world itself has undergone similar developmental stages. Our Sages, in the tractate of Sanhedrin, reveal: “The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era.”

In the first stage, when desolation ruled, our ancestors’ questions centered around “what.” The creation of the world, the flood, and Abraham’s quest for God were all infused with the many “whats” uttered by giants such as Adam, Noah and Abraham.

Later, when we received the Torah, we learned to ask “why.” It is thus no wonder that “why” is the most common question posed by the Torah’s commentaries and its offshoots. And then, two thousand years ago, the question of “how” began to arise, leading our world into its final developmental stage, the Messianic Era.

In our day, the abundance and accessibility of knowledge, and the widespread ability to obtain the material things we desire, have rendered the questions of “what” and “why” into non-issues. But the question of “how” has yet to be addressed seriously. This is particularly true for Jewry.

Many Jews wish they knew how to practice Judaism. They wish they knew how to connect with their inner soul. As a rabbi, I witness this moving phenomenon every day. But how many of us really bother to lend an ear or a hand to the unheard cry of “how”? How many of us care to serve as lamplighters, illuminating the way for them to access their precious heritage? How many of us have the courage to selflessly reach out to them, with genuine care and love?

About the Author: Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, AZ. He is a popular educator, lecturer and author of many essays and writings on the Judaism and social analysis.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Question For Our Age”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Jeremy Bird, working for Israeli campaign outfit V15, shown at Ted Talk, May 20, 2014.
V15 US Political Operative Marinated in Hate-Israel Activism
Latest Indepth Stories
Eli Weiss

Shepherding in the Shomron isn’t your usual kind of shepherding – despite his business-minded beginnings, Eli has discovered that a strong ideological impetus powers the job.

Resnick-013015-Pilot

I said to myself, “This story has got to be told. We’re losing this generation of World War II and if we don’t listen to them now, we’ve lost it.”

Eller-013015

His entire existence was about spreading simcha and glorifying G-d’s name on a daily basis.

IRAN-US-POLITICS-MILITARY

An Israeli strike could theoretically damage Iran’s nuclear program; only US can terminate program

At some point we need to stop simply defending and promoting Israel and start living in Israel

“We Jews are the only people who when we drop a book on the floor pick it up and kiss it.”

Though Zaide was the publisher of The Jewish Press, a big newspaper,I always remember him learning

Speaker Silver has been an extraordinary public servant since his election to the Assembly in 1975 and has been an exemplary leader of that body since 1994.

He spent the first leg of his daylong visit to the French capital at Hyper Cacher.

Drawing Congress into the Iran nuclear debate is the last thing the White House wants.

Great leaders like Miriam and like Sarah Schenirer possess the capacity to challenge the status quo that confronts them.

Obama’s foreign policy is viewed by both liberals and conservatives as deeply flawed

Many journalists are covertly blaming the Charlie Hebdo writers themselves through self-censorship.

Why does the Times relay different motivations and narratives for jihadists in Europe and Israel?

More Articles from Rabbi Pinchas Allouche
twitter faceless

On Facebook, young and old alike fool themselves into believing they are better than the person they see in the mirror.

F100804AS08

Why would our tradition fill our fun-filled summers with such restricting limitations?

As the dust settles and the fog lifts from this tumultuous year of political campaigning, we are left to wonder how our country will evolve. Will the economy bounce back? Will our schools make progress? And how about U.S. relations with Israel? Will they grow weaker or stronger? Will the administration support an Israeli strike on Iran?

It was not a necessary part of our busy itinerary. It was not even a noble errand. But the craving for a tasty lunch led our group to experience a moment never to be forgotten.

Our blinding attraction to drama has captivated so many of us. We love to live it, watch it, or even worse, create it.

“It’s not easy being labeled religious these days,” a friend confessed to me a few weeks ago.

My friend may be right – so-called religious people have committed some of humanity’s most horrific crimes, casting a dark shadow on religion – but what is religion? What is the definition of a “religious person”? What was he referring to? Can religion and evil really co-exist?

Winds of uncertainty are blowing across the globe. The future remains unsure. Will the sun shine again? Will stability reemerge after the storm dies down?

Let’s face it: it’s unusual and even somewhat bizarre nowadays to encounter a family with more than two children. It is almost as if a war is launched against the unborn after a “red line” of two or three children has been reached.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-question-for-our-age/2008/08/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: