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Meaning is a Choice

Meaning is a choice. As moderns, we have looked into the abyss and seen the potential of darkness and emptiness there. Part of this comes from the Western approach to reason and meaning. Our first mode is to look for underlying measurable causes to things. We take on a mode where we look only at the mechanisms of things and ask: is there really deep meaning?

The greater part arises from humanity’s behavior over the last 120 years. As we have understood the Universe better, we have unlocked our ability to destroy ourselves and our planet. We are not only capable of immense devastation but we have used that destructive potential again and again. Humanity as a whole lacks restraint that becomes all the more urgent. Which leads us to ask: if this is what we are, how can the world signify? If humanity so easily murders, destroys, and despoils, how can there be any underlying meaning?

Perhaps faith has become harder today for these reasons, but it was never easy. The abyss was always there. We simply see ourselves in it more clearly. That dark meaningless abyss creates an illusion of sucking in all the light and meaning. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Even in the darkest moments, we discover the omnipresence of love. People in the concentration camps who shared their food with others looked to the light. People in the ghettos who made art and music and theater chose life. People who today create coral nurseries to nurture the reefs that are blighted world wide choose to push back against destruction. People again and again choose meaning even in the places where they should simply give up.

I believe that by asserting that our lives have meaning we invite that meaning into our lives. I have experienced the power of offering love and receiving love. Offering love is to offer an embrace that pushes back against the callousness of the world. Receiving love is a drink in a parched throat that restores.

God tells us that there is blessing and curse, life and death. God instruct, cajoles, and reminds us to choose life. When we choose life, the blessing does follow. When I set aside fear and separation and remind myself of connection and love, I am enlivened. It releases me from the stresses that I so easily contract and hold onto with a white knuckled grip to then give way to joy and purpose.

The abyss might be all there is. And that might be the greatest false belief of them all. But either way, I choose life and meaning. And this has made all the difference.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Booth

Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyyar 5784