Sruli Fruchter
Sruli Fruchter

Parshat Vaetchanan: The Search for Meaning

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Meaning is to people as water is to fish: In both cases, the latter cannot live without the former. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust, founded the idea of logotherapy, the school of thought that says the central force motivating human beings is the search for a life purpose. In his acclaimed book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he demonstrates this theory through his expertise in the field, as well as his personal ability to survive the terrors of the Holocaust. This idea, that all people harness a natural longing for a larger meaning in their lives, was not first mentioned by Frankl. In fact, Moshe Rabbeinu discusses it in Parshat Vaetchanan.

At one point in Moshe’s speech to Bnei Yisrael, he warns that, in the future, Bnei Yisrael may forsake their life with Hashem and, in effect, will be scattered across the world, where they will fall into idolatrous practices. However, Moshe continues, hope will not be lost. He says, “If you search there for Hashem your God, you will find Him, if only you seek Him with all your heart and soul — when you are in distress because all these things have befallen you and, in the end, return to Hashem your God and hear His voice” (Devarim 4:29-30).

In general, Bnei Yisrael lived their lives in sync with Hashem, feeling a constant connection with the Divine Presence. However, when they chased after fictitious fantasies that offered short-term pleasures without anything long-lasting, they fell out of touch with Hashem. Moshe explains, however, that even when this will happen to the people when they are dispersed as a nation, they will always be able to seek out Hashem, to seek out the Soul of their souls.

In Derashot HaRan, the Ran adds a new layer to this potential future Moshe outlines. He explains that when things in life seem to be going well, it’s easy to chase after desires alone with no other considerations. However, when the illusion fades always, such choices feel empty and bitter. This, the Ran says, brings one to see things in a clear light, and their heart and soul search for Hashem, which is the essence of each person’s nature. Such a person then plugs into Hashem to experience the richness of joy and vitality that is provided by a life of connection (10:26).

The Ran’s model shows that, when one truly feels that their life is without meaning, the vacancy leads one to search for real, infinite fullness. That is the search for meaning, the search that each and every person is yearning for, as per Viktor Frankl’s work in logotherapy. Moshe contends that this search for meaning is essentially the search for Hashem.

Rav Kook writes about how the situation that Moshe described — whereby people neglect a life of Hashem for a cheap counterfeit — was found in his time, too. “And so the world continues, descending into the destruction of every ‘I’ — of the individual and of the collective,” he says. “[In the time of Mashiach, we] will seek Hashem our God and David our king. We will be in awe of God and His Goodness. We will seek our ‘I.’ We will search for our essence and discover. Remove all foreign gods, remove every strange and illegitimate one” (Orot HaKodesh 3, p. 140-41).[1]

The search for meaning is the search for Hashem, and the search for Hashem is the search for living a life aligned with our purpose — a life of our higher “I.” This is the quest of our generation, an exploration for the wellspring of meaning that is sourced in Hashem. Moshe predicted it, and Rav Kook described it. Now, we are seeing it.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 13

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter is a rising senior at Yeshiva University studying International and Global Affairs. He is passionate about Torah, self-growth, and bringing Hashem into every aspect of our lives. Sruli is the Editor in Chief of The Commentator, an International Relations Intern for the World Jewish Congress, and the Host of the Soul Life Podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/soul-life/id1562404285
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