What if You Can't Find Meaning – Parshat Shelach

Occasionally, I will get a client asking me about Dr. Viktor Frankl, the author of Mans's Search for Meaning, and how to find meaning in life. After a few moments they might say, "I've been looking for meaning but find nothing. What now?" Indeed, what now? Give up? Keep searching? What?

This is an age-old question. In Parshat Shelach, we read about how the Israelites had been in the desert for just over a year since their exodus from Egypt. They were preparing to enter the Promised Land and had said they wanted to send spies to check out the land.1 Moshe sent spies and they came back with two differing opinions. The people chose to accept the negative opinion. But God didn’t call them out at that point. People ask questions and have doubts all the time. He only appeared to the people after they had lost respect for themselves and turned into an angry lynch mob. When that happened, He intervened. When they lost their own dignity and treated everything else, with disdain and indignity, they become sub-human. This is what caused God to react and immediately ask, "Until when will this nation upset Me?"2 His main concern was that they 'lost it'. Their loss of dignity was what set Him off.

Apparently, they searched, they didn’t find and then lost their hold on their own humanity.

Wait a sec – so what's the right answer? The answer may be that there is no answer right now; and there may never be one. Thanks a lot! So what then?!?

Perhaps, then, we are asking the wrong question. When a person goes through trauma, instead of looking to understand everything that happens, we need to learn to accept and decide how to view what happened. As Dr. Frankl, himself a Holocaust survivor, writes, that when faced with unavoidable suffering, "we call on the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances."3 It is okay to ask hard questions. Even King David says "why have You forsaken me?"4 But he never lost his humanity.  

Scott Pelley tells the story of Antoine Leiris who lost his wife in a terrorist attack in Paris and was left to raise their 17-month-old son alone. In trying to get a perspective on this individual tragedy, Pelley comments: "The search for an explanation leaves us with silence, until we search inside. In these times, don't ask the meaning of life. Life is asking, what's the meaning of you?"5

After a year had passed by, Leiris was interviewed and asked about the time that had passed. "I live in the present," he explains, "because I’m just carrying on to the next day with my son – the next bath – and really, when you have the responsibility of being a father, it has to be about that."6 He seems to have found his meaning in the responsibility he feels. He has carried on with life.

Maybe instead of demanding the answer from without, we ought to be searching within – and there we can find the strength to continue, despite it all. 

Click here to read another logoParsha article on Shelach (What Do We Do Now)


  1. Bamidbar 13-14 and Devarim 1 – the story appears in the Torah twice, each time giving supplemental details
  2. Bamidbar 14:11 – based on Ibn Ezra's commentary
  3. Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, p.66
  4. Tehillim 22:2
  5. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/in-the-face-of-terror-the-human-spirit-endures-paris-attacks/
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/16/antoine-leiris-you-will-not-have-my-hate-interview-paris-attacks-helene-bataclan

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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