Asking the Big Questions


A recent memory came back to me.

At the age of around 14, I remember bursting into tears in front of both my parents. I didn’t understand, I told them, what the point of all the Torah study I was doing that I engaged in for about 12 hours a day. What was the point of it all? It was so obviously irrelevant from anything to do with reality.

I remember my parents being at a loss, both intellectually and emotionally.

My mother told me father to give me a hug. So he did.

They tried to give reasons, it didn’t go very far.

We went for a walk, and bumped into the neighborhood Rabbi, Avigdor Nebentzal. “Let’s ask him,” my mother suggested.

He gave a beaming smile and explained. Something about Torah changing us, or supporting the world, or something like that.

My parents asked if I understood. I said yes.

They asked if I felt better. I said I did.

A few things stand out to me in this story, beside my mother delegating affection to my father and him awkwardly complying.

How plagued I was by existential questions from the youngest of ages. How the importance of knowing why I was doing what I was doing stood out as a crucial requirement. (apparently not everyone works this way? Apparently Simon Sinek needed to write a book about it?)

And also, how my parents had no answers. How they sent me to school every day to do something that they couldn’t articulate. That they were placated by answers delivered by random rabbis on random street corners. Until they met them, or had they arbitrarily not done so, things were still just fine.

To me, the artificial application of meaning on top of something that viscerally felt meaningless is metaphorical for much of my experience of around religion. There was a brute-forcing of my own intuition into the squareness of religious practice.

The will of God is so. This is how it’s done. Now figure out how to be happy around it.

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