Search for Simple Answers – Parshat Chukat
Wouldn’t it be great if life had simple answers to even the most complex questions? It would be easier to bear the burdens of suffering and anguish. After all, if Despair is, according to Doctor Viktor Frankl, Suffering without Meaning (D=S-M), then if we could assign meaning to our suffering, we would be spared all that despair and anguish.1 We know that stuff happens. Our question is always how to deal with it. How do we find simple answers?
This week's parsha has a perfect example of this conundrum. Abarbanel asks about the order of Moshe and Aharon's deaths.2 After all, since they were found guilty together and received their sentences at the same time, shouldn’t their sentence be executed simultaneously as well? Abarbanel offers seven, yes seven, different answers. Some are easier to comprehend than others while some are arguable. Yet, Abarbanel holds that ALL the answers are correct. Huh? Yup. All the answers are correct and represent different aspects of the situation. Some events can be so complicated that they have at least seven different correct answers, or more, as to why it had to be this particular way.
We ask ourselves questions about painful events in our lives all the time and we often have this expectation that there should be a simple way to make sense of what is going on. We are rational beings after all. This can happen with personal, familial and communal issues, COVID or civil unrest or other issues great or small that we might be confronting in our lives (the delay in the start of the baseball season is great or small??).
…suffering ceases to be suffering
at the moment it finds a meaning
I, personally, still have new insights about how I reacted to my father's death from cancer - 50 years later. And any new insight doesn’t displace any previous one. It simple adds new dimensions to my experience and understanding of that event and how I reacted to it. I am constantly being shown new ways to understand and learn from that experience.
Sometimes answers can be simple, sometimes complex. Sometimes there is one single answer while other times there are multiple answers. We don’t know ahead of time which it will be. We may even continue to suffer until we find an answer – or a better answer. Perhaps the first answer will not even suffice to alleviate the suffering. And the search will continue.
Once we know, however, that meaning exists, even if we cannot find it at the moment, we can attempt to develop the patience to wait until we can find it. It is not always simple, and can even be downright frustrating yet it is still helpful to know that life has meaning in all circumstances.
Have A Great Shabbat!