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How do we find meaning in the Torah and Judaism?

I understand some will respond that Hashem created us, so therefore that's all the reason we need to fulfil His mitzvos but, is there any meaning in it beyond "'cos He said so"?

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  • What makes a particular meaning "deeper"?
    – Double AA
    Dec 20, 2022 at 2:55
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    Welcome to MiYodeya Binyamin and thanks for this first question. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Dec 20, 2022 at 3:49
  • Do you mean meaning or a sense of fulfillment?
    – N.T.
    Dec 20, 2022 at 6:42
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    It's worth thinking about what is wrong with "because He said so". HKB"H created, sustains and judges the world; He is all-powerful and all-knowing. To use a modern idiom, if He says jump the only question is how high. Dec 21, 2022 at 22:24

1 Answer 1

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Hi Binyamin and a big warm welcome to Mi Yodeya, I am fairly new too and it's a great place. Thanks for bringing this most essential of all questions to our site, where it rightfully deserves to be, and which needs an answer.


tl;dr: Don't look at the meaning-question as "what's the meaning for me" but "what's the meaning of me". The answer is, you were created to serve Hashem (and your fellow man), and it is a true, important service that has infinite, vital meaning to Hashem.

The question of "why is it important to Him" shouldn't be necessary (although it is interesting), and can certainly be beyond our understanding (but we finite beings can still deeply appreciate the worthy-of-Hashem's-greatness answers, which are available to anyone truly seeking, read on to get some insight), we just need to know that it is truly, cosmically, infinitely, vitally important. It is.

It is also exceedingly close to you, to love it, when you know it.


Please, let's proceed with great care and sensitivity. This matter is very personal (to Hashem, may His name be blessed forever). It seems, we are allowed to talk about it, it's not just reserved for the most sensitive and holy scholars of the generation, but let's not spill anything precious. I also apologise if some people think this is the most obvious thing in the world, I am not trying to patronise anyone. I don't know why, but the modern secular world somehow has this power of making some of the most obvious truths of Torah difficult to see, as happened to myself for many years.

Let's start by asking, what meaning did Hashem find in creating the world? The most common answer given is that given by the Ramchal Z'tzl, in Derech Hashem 1:2:1:

The purpose of creation was to give from His goodness, may He be blessed, to someone else.

This answer, which is perhaps the most grossly misunderstood idea in all of Torah learning, is extremely profound and explains the meaning of life. Firstly, how is it misunderstood? Let's get that out of the way because this misunderstanding can be the primary reason that many people lose touch with the meaning in Torah and mitzvot.

It is misunderstood by many to mean "Hashem created the world for me to benefit". I.e. my purpose in life is to have a good time (and they don't mean hedonism per se, but gain spiritual benefit, the best good God can give etc). Often combined with the Talmudic dictum "Every person should view the world as if it were created for him", we end up with a message that we are all created for our own benefit and that's the meaning in our life - to maximise that benefit. And the way to do that, supposedly, is to keep the mitzvot and study Torah.

A lot of people nowadays, in my experience, are coming to the quite correct conclusion this is not meaningful in the slightest. Not just because of old problems, like "I don't see the benefit in kosher" or "I find the idea of a delayed reward in another world too abstract to motivate me" or "stop threatening me with heaven and hell". People nowadays seem to be waking up to the inherent illogic of it - they recognise that they didn't choose to exist, and therefore it can't be about them! Exactly right - "against your will, you were created" as the Mishna says (Avot 4:22). Many people nowadays either get turned off completely, or lose all enthusiasm for Torah, mitzvot, and life itself(!) when they are told that they should keep Torah and mitzvot because it is of great benefit to them.

How infinitely disappointing, as well as gloomy - am I nothing but a selfish creature? Surely there's something more important to life than this.


How do we really understand the above statement from the Ramchal then? It's that last word "לזולתו", "for someone else" that is the key. Hashem, may He blessed, found meaning in there being "someone else", besides Himself. The meaning in life is this: There is someone else, and they need you. Be good to them*. Live for them.

You are needed, not needy. Your purpose in life, the reason you were created without being asked, is to fill that need. Right after stating this, Ramchal then devotes a lot of ink to explaining that we should attach ourselves to Hashem by being as similar to Him as possible - so no, this is not an asymmetrical picture, where the point is for Him to give and and us to get, that's it, chas veshalom. On the contrary, Hashem is teaching us how a Godly relationship works: "I am for my beloved, and My beloved is for Me". We focus not on our own needs, our own benefit, but on the needs and benefit of our beloveds, and give them the great gift of letting them dote over our needs!

Hashem revealed to us His mitzvot, and explained to us that they are His ratzon. They are what He wants, He likes, He considers vital and necessary. By doing mitzvot, we are doing what He wants. There's the meaning in it! This is a true Avodah, a true service, giving Him what He actually needs from us. How much does He want it? Have you seen how important it is to Him in the Torah? About 70% of the Torah is Hashem explaining to us how vitally important it is to Him, and how important we are to Him. Tanya explains the great lengths Hashem went to, in order to have us. He had to do a lot of things that are, dare we say it, beneath His exalted dignity, against His perfect will, and certainly, k'veyachol, of great suffering to Him - such as creating evil and a yeitzer hara and suffering, hiding, constricting...

If you read between the lines, you'll see the real secret of Torah. What He really needs is us. His זולתו, His beloved. You. That is the purpose of creation, the Divine Plan - to create a "dira b'tachton", an eternal intimacy with someone else, i.e. Bishvil Yisrael. אֲנִ֣י לְדוֹדִ֔י וְעָלַ֖י תְּשׁוּקָתֽוֹ

By keeping Torah and mitzvot, we are emulating Him. Not just in that He keeps Torah and mitzvot (which is important to this point too), but by doing what He wants, we are "giving to Someone else from our goodness", and He is getting us as a result. This is the same for all relationships - don't get married to get something from your wife, even something noble and spiritual like a mitzva/children/spiritual growth! Do it because she needs you (and btw, you need her too). Live for your children, be willing to die for them! Make your life about giving your best you to your friends, your coworkers, your family, your community, your people, your whole world. In a quiet moment, look deep within, hear the vow your soul made before it was born, you'll realise that you are here to be a hero of Torah proportions, a tzaddik who doesn't live for himself, but lives for others. This is emulating Hashem.

Hashem said, in His 10th statement of creation, "It is not good for man to be alone". What did He create with that? He created a nature in humans that we are keenly aware of how "not good" it is to be alone. Why did He have to create that? Because it's not logical. Being alone should be "very good", right? Nobody to bother you, detract from you, worry about. It's the "natural" state. Hashem created us in His image, so the meaning He has in not being alone, He passed on to us.

This is the real meaning of "the whole world was created for me". Yes it was, but not so you could have you, but so He (and your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends...) could have you, in the same way they are for you. In the same way that He is for you! The "very best good" according to Ramchal, Hashem gives Himself to us. Now we know what that means.

The task in life, the purpose in life, is for us to rise above ourselves, to the point of mesirat nefesh, for an other. Take that same love and p'nimiut we have naturally for ourselves (which is innocent and holy), and cultivate it for someone else. This sentiment is so much more mature, real, powerful, and above all healthy than living for oneself.

So, the Sages, may their memory be a blessing, say a tzaddik is alive even when he is dead, and a sinner is dead even when he is alive (see Berachot 18b). If a person doesn't live for someone else, he hasn't tasted true life. A righteous person is someone who has figured it out - looking after one's beloveds is far more compelling and real than looking after oneself. The latter is not life, only leads to neuroticism and stress, and it is no better than being dead (and that's just when it is innocent). The dust we were made from existed for itself and nothing else. We are given a choice to live, to emulate Hashem who created the world to share His good with someone else, so too we should live to share our good; our love, our justice, our compassion, our caring and desire with others, and with Him, the true Eternal One.

How does one achieve this? Learning lots of Torah. Growing up, getting married, and keeping the mitzvot. All this inculcates us with this orientation and once we have "taste[d], and see[n] that Hashem is good", we can't go back to the smaller world of ourselves, we live and breathe to serve others, our beloved family, people and God. We stay up late at night, hoping that we can be with them forever, and serve them forever!

Surely, Hashem's already said YES to that prayer :)

It is wonderful, and awesome, ennobling and uplifting - remember, it leads to true mesirat nefesh, "I would gladly give up myself, my head, my heart, my ambition, my eternity for you, and until then, I give it all to you". If we all search deep within ourselves, we will find of course, that's exactly the type of person we want to be. A Torah-true Hero, someone who makes meaning in life, a true partner of Hashem.

If one feels they haven't achieved this and doesn't see how, relax. It will happen. Life does it to us whether we like it or not, and it just takes time. Wisdom. Age. Maturity. Fulfilling the mitzvot greatly assists in this! Holding one's newborn baby and promising to never let anything bad happen to her. Seeing the smile on one's friend's face when one helped them through a difficulty. Clocking on to how much one is truly needed by their spouse, nay, by everyone in their life. It can't be ignored forever! It can't leave one cold forever! It eventually penetrates even the toughest of hearts.

Maybe you are like me and enjoy a good meme. We may see 100 memes that make us laugh, because someone did something stupid, or clever, or funny. Once in a while though, a meme makes us cry. We see a story of how some people got together and helped someone, or how someone risked their life to save someone else, or of a medical procedure that changes someone's life. "Taste and see, that Hashem is good". Hashem's perfect way, His mitzvot, are the real goodness in life. Serving oneself is hollow, empty and ultimately destructive, even if there is some passing pleasure in it...


A few things that must be said at this stage, as I feel the whole point can get deflated if they are not addressed before a "klutz kashe" is asked in the comments. If you wish to understand any of the below deeply, I can point you to sefarim, shiurim or you can even ask them as separate questions, to get fuller answers.

Firstly, how does us keeping the mitzvot further Hashem's Divine Plan to be One with His people?

It is well outside of the scope of this question, and there are many many layers to it. For example, the idea that we are His partner in "tikun olam" - fixing the world. This means we are fixing the human condition (the "Life" that Hashem has made which is the "place" where this Oneness happens), by doing good, avoiding evil, repairing and elevating darkness, teshuva, studying and developing Torah and getting right to the very bottom detail of all of Hashem's ratzon about good, evil, permitted, forbidden, pure, impure, etc etc. The Kabbalists tell us this affects the entire human condition - if you avoid a single temptation, you make it easier for everyone to avoid that temptation, etc.

Another example is free will. Hashem, may He be blessed, wants us, so therefore He must let us be us, let us be truly a "someone else", so we can love and desire Him (and each other!) ourselves, and not by force. He gives us a path to Him, and every other path too, so we are free to reject all of it and worship** only Him.

There is so much more, and ultimately if we do get down to the bottom of it, to the place of advanced theological philosophy, we have to accept it on faith. I don't completely understand why He wanted it this way in every detail and how exactly it all works, but He tells us it is so,and invites us to try to understand by studying Torah, and we trust His promises b'emuna shelema.

~

Secondly, how can Hashem want? Surely He doesn't need anything right? There's nothing besides Him. Everything in creation is utterly nullified to Him. Doesn't the Rambam and many others stress over and over He needs nothing? Doesn't it say "if you are a tzaddik, what do you give Him?". Isn't it absurd, or even blasphemous to think a finite, created being, can give anything to His infinite eternal creator? This is also well outside the scope of this answer, and I ask the commentors to refrain from jumping in with kashes as I won't be able to do them justice here. All I can say is the following.

Of course Hashem doesn't need anything. He has (nay, is), definitionally, everything. However, we are not talking about a thing. We are talking about you. He needs you. There is a world of things, but then there is a mysterious, holy world of... someones. Our finite world enables us to confuse the two (may Hashem have mercy on us), even in language - we use the same words for both and the danger is we will think they mean the same thing in these two different contexts. This is why I called for maturity above. It takes maturity, deep life lessons, experience with real relationships and intimacy, to get past this point. We are shrouded in darkness, but darkness doesn't mean the room is empty, it just means we can't see what is there. Hashem is there, He is real, a real Someone. Light Chanuka candles and contemplate all your relationships - what am I not seeing in the people I love? How can I bring light to the relationship and give them what they need?

When we say "need" in the world of things, lack is implied. I need a thing because I lack that thing, or something that that thing can accomplish for me. Applying this need to Hashem is pure heresy. When we say "I need you", however, we mean something entirely different. I, in and of myself, may be lacking absolutely nothing, and yet I can still need my child (I would be lacking if I didn't need my child - need for others is a form of perfection, not deficiency). I can need him to be in my life, to be good, to be safe, to be mine. It goes above and beyond all things, including spiritual things like emotion and intellect. It is the place of true meaning, the need we have for eachother. It's truly Divine. Hashem calls Yisrael "yonati tamati", "My perfect dove". Tamati also means complete, He is romantically saying that we, k'veyachol, complete Him, give meaning to His life, may He be blessed.

It's still hard to understand with Hashem, I admit. We "have" desires. Ideas "occur" to us. Hashem, on the other hand, doesn't have anything "happen" to Him. He is the primordial source and cause of everything. He doesn't "have" an idea, He "makes" an idea, if that even makes sense in finite, temporal language! He doesn't "have" a desire, He and His desire are One.

However the Master, may His name be blessed, does not have different capabilities, even though He actually has properties that are differing within us. For surely He is willful and is wise and is powerful and He is perfect in every perfection; however the truth of His existence is one matter that includes within His truth and domain (meaning the truth of His being, as having a domain is not applicable to Him, may He be blessed - rather it is only by way of literary license) everything that is a perfection (Derech Hashem 1:1:5)

He is thoroughly Himself (something we can hardly grasp in finite terms, although He invites us to grow to be like Him in this way too), whatever He wants doesn't come from the object of the desire, but from the Desirer Himself. What He needs is something we can't ask any further "whys" about, as it is the why of all whys which we must ultimately take it on emuna.

(This is a good lesson for every marriage! If your wife says she needs something, and you can't possibly see why, you don't demand she explain it to you or you won't do it. Often, she can't even explain it to you, that's just the way she is! All you need to know is - does she mean it? Does she really need this? If so, no question, you do it. Basic derech eretz, basic decency in any healthy relationship.)

Does Him, therefore, "choosing" to desire us make it more whimsical then? Back to square one? On the contrary. As just stated, what does He base this choice on? Himself, a truly "free" choice, free from all external influence. This is what the kabbalists mean when they say performance of mitzvot are "nogeah be'atzmus". They are essential to His essential self, i.e. to Him, Himself. The choices Hashem makes are real, eternal - no change took place anywhere - and of absolute vitality and importance - they are Him and He always was and always will be. They make things that are "destined", like our in-built, unchosen needs, look whimsical! So as always when it comes to Hashem, things turn out infinitely more impressive and outstanding than our finite human conception of it is, never less.

The holy Zohar states:

ישראל ואורייתא וקודשא בריך הוא חד הוא

Yisrael, Torah and Hashem are One

Hashem is all about Oneness. The true, original romantic, Hashem is giving us Himself, and wants us to do the same for Him, for each other and then we will truly understand the real meaning of life, and really taste true goodness. Bimhera beyamenu!

p.s. the statement "if you are a tzaddik, what do you give Him" is taken to mean, He doesn't need you to be a tzaddik, He just needs YOU. A finite being can certainly give to a truly infinite God, to Whom nothing is too big, or too small. How much it means to Him is the reward in Olam Haba (which is the only thing we will care about, given how we have sworn ourselves to Him b'mesirat nefesh at Sinai - see this sicha).


So learn Torah as much as you can. He needs you to know Him deeply, everything about Him, and Torah is Him revealing Himself. Do mitzvot, Hashem, and everyone needs you to be a mensch, be His representative, His light, His kind of guy, doing what He wants, for Him and not yourself. He needs you to be good to those He gave to you, gave you to, for them, not you. Know that by doing so, you are bringing about the realisation of His eternal plan that is dependant on you, it's not a game or miraculous or illusion or whimsical in any way, it is real, even if you can't understand it in full yourself.

You are on a Divine mission of infinite importance and meaning, every thought you have, every word you speak, every action you perform is literally and absolutely of utmost importance to Him, and He is standing over you, with infinite Divine attention. You don't need to know why, you cannot grasp infinite importance, so you just need to know that it's true - it really is vital and necessary to Him, to your fellow Jews.

Still, I hope this answer has provided a little bit of the "why", which is more necessary than ever before because we are living in a world where the exact opposite is taught to us from every direction...

Hatzlacha precious Yid, the whole world vitally needs you. He needs you. It's not a buba maase, it's true. You can do it.


If you would like to learn more on this, as we have barely scratched the surface, please ask in the comments and depending on what your preferences are, I'm sure I can help find the right shiur, sefer or Rav for you. Either way, in all cases, I'd recommend Rabbi Manis Friedman, who has thousands of lectures on Youtube and covers all this very extensively.

* a nice definition of Godly "good" I once heard is when you make someone else more important to you than you are to yourself; their needs, wants, goals and side more important than yours.

** a nice definition of "worship" I once heard is when you think someone is absolutely perfect in every way

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    Well done drafting this wonderful answer!
    – Shmuel
    Dec 20, 2022 at 19:35
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/73923 and judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/25586#comment56673_25586 (as well answers there)
    – Fred
    Dec 20, 2022 at 21:48
  • You can give a good answer (see upvotes) to a not so good question. People will still be able to find your essay and upvote it if they find it useful. Dec 21, 2022 at 10:52
  • @Kazibácsi I didn't realise how the voting open/close system worked. I still hope it gets opened, now that it's been edited. I still think it's a good question that would benefit from more answers.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Dec 21, 2022 at 23:04
  • I've rewritten this and if this question gets opened again I will replace what's here with the re-write. Also, if anyone asks, I will
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 1, 2023 at 20:26

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