(Ninth in a series summarizing the book Halachic Man)
Having a sense of order in life makes life make sense. I know of someone who lost a child, and a friend took it upon herself to come by every day to do the dishes and get the kids off to school. A person struck by tragedy is living in a world of chaos. And that’s why it’s important to people to know there’s a Creator who made an orderly world.
In The Worlds’s Religions, Huston Smith writes an excellent chapter on Judaism. One look at the table of contents makes it clear why the meaning-centered approach of logotherapy is well suited for the Jewish perspective. It reads:
“Meaning in God. Meaning in Creation. Meaning in Human Existence. Meaning in History. Meaning in Morality. Meaning in Justice. Meaning in Suffering…”
Affirming that existence is God-created is not a purely theoretical question but has a bearing on how we live. Smith writes: “Everyone at times finds himself or herself asking whether life is worthwhile, which amounts to asking whether, when the going gets rough, it makes sense to continue to live. Those who conclude that it does not make sense give up…To affirm that existence is God-created is to affirm its unimpeachable worth.” When things go wrong the alternative to giving up is being challenged “to search for causes of their problems where they can effect changes.”
In Halachic Man Rabbi Soloveitchik writes about God as the Creator who instituted laws and who fixed boundaries between creation and chaos. Even so, waves from the sea crash upon the shore, threatening to overstep their bounds. Such waves symbolize the struggle of chaos with order, confusion with rule and the attempt to return the world to nothingness.
Rabbi Soloveitchik adds that this symbolic/mystical idea represents an ethical principle: Man comes into the world commanded to be a partner in creation. It’s not enough that God made order once. Man has to renew creation and put it into perfect order.
The aim of halacha is to take an idealized picture of a perfect world the ideal world and make it real. Holiness is therefore not defined as an escape from our messed-up world into transcendent bliss but rather by the creative process of making God’s presence felt right here in our world.
How does this work? Jews sanctify the Sabbath day (the day commemorating creation of the world) by reciting words about creation over a cup of wine. In this way they testify to the existence of God as Creator and to their obligation to be God’s partner in perfecting creation. The blessing over the new moon expresses hope for nature to renew itself.
Moreover, the Jewish people see their destiny as tied to the world’s destiny. The forces of chaos that threaten to tear them apart are threatening to tear the world apart. May that is why they carry the torch of perfecting an imperfect world.
Ultimately the Jewish people are not supposed to be alone in doing this. The whole world is supposed to pick up the torch and carry it. Right now the real world has good and bad mixed together. Man, as a miniature world contains the same dualism of good and bad, and the negative forces in man threaten destruction just like the waves crashing at the shore.
On the psychological level Freud and others like him focused on the depths of the subconscious. Judaism and logotherapy both have a more balanced view of man as a being who stands at a crossroads between image-of-God or animal-of-prey. The choice is up to him or her. A person needs to create him or herself.
In spite of his personal experience of being in concentration camps, Frankl believed in an orderly world, in a God who created the world with a purpose in mind. Furthermore he believed in the good in human beings that is capable and challenged to be a partner together with God towards making order and removing the threat of chaos and destruction forever.