Meaninglessness as a Curse – Parshat Bechukotai
I've been writing this blog for almost 5 years. I am not surprised that I have been able to successfully find* meaning hints in every parsha a few times over.1 What is surprising is that it is sometimes so blatant that it cannot be ignored. The Torah values meaning in life. It exhorts you to find meaning and live by it2 and it does not tolerate when you deter others from their meaning.3
However, in Parshat Bechukotai, the Torah actually uses 'lack of meaning' as a curse. In describing the different reactions God will have to the sin of His people, the Torah says, almost poetically, "And your strength shall be spent in vain."4 If you spend your strength, as Rashi describes, planning, doing and succeeding in seeing your dreams realized, you can feel happy, satisfied and fulfilled. Yet if you see your investment of time, energy and money go to waste, there is a sense of emptiness over the wasted effort. So if a farmer plows, seeds, rakes, waters, fertilizes, protects, weeds, etc., in order to feed his family, then watches his crops fail and realizes that all his efforts have been in vain, he will experience a feeling of emptiness, or meaninglessness.
Investing so much energy in any endeavor we make, is almost necessarily contingent on our expecting to see positive results. We would think of that energy as wasted if after all the work we did, the goal was not even partially met. There would naturally follow a sense of meaninglessness, if even for a short time.5 Curses of meaninglessness can be treated, overcome, disregarded or overlooked but the original event is still experienced as a curse, challenge or difficulty.
This holds true at work, in personal development, in relationships and in parenting.
Through every experience of meaninglessness we are challenged again and again to get back up and continue our search for meaning. Sometimes we don’t even have to find meaning! Just recognizing meaning as a goal can be enough to help us get back up and continue. I have even seen this time and again with clients feeling stuck in therapy. Just knowing that they can get back up and continue helps them and moves therapy forward.
Even the rebuke in this week's parsha this week's parsha ends not with the curse but with a promise. A promise that there will be a self-accounting and a growth which includes taking of responsibility. Meaninglessness likewise is a challenge. We can go into bitterness and despair. or we can challenge ourselves to refocus.
Man's innate 'Will to Meaning' will lead to a future where the individual can look forward towards rebuilding and towards a blessed life filled with meaning.6 We just have to decide that we are ready
In memory of my mother, Hentcha Leah bat Yitzchak Lipa, hk"m
* I am aware that this is a split infinitive but can't bring myself to change it.
Have A Great Shabbat!