I'm 16, thinking about my life, college, career. I see a lot of unhappy adults and I don't want to end up like them. They have a lot of money, but their personal life seems empty. So, rabbi, what is man's purpose in life?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Believe it or not, the purpose of life is to attain pleasure.
A primary source of pleasure is having power.
What is power?
A glance at the world would tell us that power comes from owning things. Ownership is the ability to control, which gives us the feeling of power. The more things we own, people believe, the more power we have!
In truth, however, "things" are temporary since they often break and deteriorate. When the object breaks, so does our power. This cannot be true power, since true power must transcend breakage. It is logical to conclude that true power must transcend physicality all together. It also follows that true transcendent power should only be able to be obtained by plugging into a truly transcendent source of power.
God and His Torah are the truly transcendent sources of power.
Every drop of Torah that is learned, and every mitzvah accomplished, gets one closer to God and nourishes the soul, which is also transcendent. This nourishment gives the soul power, not only in this world, but even when the soul has departed from the body at life's end. This is truly transcendent power!
What does all this have to do with pleasure?
Just as true power cannot be obtained by amassing "things" (since the power it caused was merely transient), it follows that true pleasure must also have a sense of permanence and not be merely a fleeting pleasurable moment.
Permanent pleasure is being plugged in to God. God created the universe so that we could experience this pleasure.
Pleasure is knowing that God loves us. Pleasure is knowing that God is intimately involved in our lives. Pleasure is knowing that our soul is eternal and is completely pure. Pleasure is knowing that there is meaning in life and that our actions on Earth make a difference.
This pleasure is obtained by giving power to the soul - which comes through learning Torah and connecting to God, the ultimate source of power and pleasure.
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Now that traces of water have been discovered on Mars, I tend to believe that life could exist on other planets. I assume that traditional Judaism doesn’t say anything about alien life in outer space. What’s your opinion?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Actually, the Torah addresses every aspect of reality, through all ages and times. You just have to know how to uncover the pearls of wisdom buried within.
The Sefer HaBrit writes that extraterrestrial creatures could exist, but they would not have free will.
This would basically reduce aliens to highly developed monkeys in space ships shooting laser guns. That also means that you would not include them in a minyan, since aliens will not be obligated to pray. Furthermore, as with all creatures, you will not be allowed to feed space aliens anything that Jews are forbidden to derive benefit from – e.g. milk cooked with meat, or chometz on Passover.
As for a source of extraterrestrial life, the simple reading of Psalms 145:13 – "Your kingdom is a kingdom spanning all olamim (worlds)" – might imply the existence of extraterrestrial life, since if there were no existence on these other worlds, what kind of kingdom would God have?! (Rabbi Chasdai Crescas, 14th century)
However, the word "olamim" has two meanings. Not only does it mean "worlds," but it also means "eternities." Thus the verse can be translated as "Your Kingdom is a kingdom spanning all eternities." This reading does not imply extraterrestrial life.
Whatever the case, may the Almighty grant you long life on Earth!
The story of Cain and Abel always intrigued me. But I never understood what they were fighting about. The text doesn’t really say. Can you shed some light for me?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Adam and Eve had two sons: Cain and Abel. When harvest time comes, Cain and Abel bring offerings to God as a way of giving thanks. Abel offers "the first and fattest sheep of his flock," but Cain decides that's overdoing the gratitude thing, and he gives some of his poorer crops. God isn't very impressed with this, and He tells Cain so. Cain becomes depressed, and decides to take it out on Abel (God being too tough, and too far away to fight with). Cain picks a fight with Abel about which one of them God loves more, and then Cain kills Abel.
In His most innocent voice, God asks Cain: "What happened to your brother Abel?"
"I don't know," says Cain. "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:1-9)
What does Cain have in common with the woman who snarled at you in traffic?
Violence has nothing to do with the victim. Cain commits murder because he's depressed and angry. He could think about the failures of his own life, and try to fix them, but that would take a lot of work. It's easier to blame Cain.
Blaming your problems on others is a cheap way to avoid the difficulty of change and growth. In today's society, it sometimes seems no one wants to accept responsibility for his behavior. In one particularly silly (but true) illustration of this, a woman bought a cup of coffee from McDonald's, put the cup between her legs, and drove off. When the coffee spilled and burned her, she sued McDonald's!
Not accepting responsibility is often the reason for violence in families as well. A husband comes home frustrated at the end of a difficult day. He's looking for someone to blame. Who's around to hurt? His wife and kids! Why is his frustrating day their fault? It isn't, of course, but within a few minutes of arriving home, some provocation arises, and he lets them have it.