Shaya Cohen -


The Meaning of Life

Anything in nature can be born, live its life according to its instincts, and die. Hierarchies are established by relative power, and the strong naturally take advantage of the weak. It is the law of the jungle.

Most human societies throughout history have sought to imitate nature. In those societies, animalism is praised. People deliberately drink the blood and eat the genitalia of powerful animals in order to absorb their spirits. Embracing the animal instincts of mankind is praised: berserker rage or unbridled lust or other unthinking instinctive desires are praised and even venerated. Romulus was right to kill Remus. In these societies, the vulnerable are used and discarded by the strong. Weak-minded people, including children, are led astray for the benefit (or merely just hedonistic amusement) of the superior class.

This is the way of nature. It is the way of human nature. You can see it on every playground, where pecking orders that are identical to those found in any chicken coop are first established, where children learn that others are faster or stronger, and that being nice to someone else is usually rewarded with embarrassment and pain.

We think it is easy to overcome our natures. It is not. Every single person on the internet who succumbs to the temptation to write a nasty post, every single person who gives into telling gossip about others, every person who leverages their intellect or beauty or strength or wealth to lord over someone else is acting according to the Law of the Jungle, to Might Makes Right.

Every time we find ways to divide, to hate, to make others feel bad, we limit ourselves and the good that we can do in the world in the limited time we have.

How do we fix this?

Well, if we wanted to counter our natures, to create sibling relationships of mutual support instead of competition, loving and kind marriages, communities where people lift each other up, and even an entire nation built on sensitivity to others and gratitude and the furtherance of mankind, then we would have to find ways to institutionalize the teaching and nurturing of positive words, thoughts and deeds. We would want to regularly prompt each of us to recognize our failures and weaknesses, and seek to improve, to grow and change.

That might look a lot like a set of unthinking rituals. Those rituals might include honoring everyone we meet with courtesy and a kind word. It might include constant expressions of gratitude – for the food we eat, for the kindnesses others show. We could add constant reminders that each person has a soul on loan from G-d, and is thus deserving of respect even if they themselves choose to act like mere animals. The rituals might also require us to show our vulnerability, and never take advantage of the vulnerability shown by others. We would try to make everything we do a statement in opposition to our natural instincts: we might have a diet, for example, that symbolically reminds us of our purpose. We could mandate acts of generosity and charity to others. We might even forbid gossip, shunning those who practice it, refusing to even be in the room when someone is dishing out dirt on someone else. Above all, we would be constantly reminded to reject all unthinking acts of passion, the grudges that break apart families, those comfortable tribal hatreds that ostracize outsiders so we can instinctively belong to our herd.

And if you add all those rituals together, you end up with something like Orthodox Judaism. But not nearly close enough. It is easier to “plug and chug,” to engage in rituals unthinkingly, rather than understand that they are there for a purpose. Even with every ritual in place, it is very, very difficult to accept our own failures and weaknesses and address them. So the trappings and the rituals often become unmoored from their very purpose. And if I follow the rituals but am still contemptuous of others, then I have missed the entire point!

This objection is, of course, a regular criticism of organized religions. And the criticism has merit. We are supposed to do the things the Torah commands us to do for a reason. And that reason is all about being better than our Nature, growing higher than our Nurture. It is about taking responsibility for our actions, for seeing that what we do matters, and that our choices have consequences that we cannot merely slough off as being “not my fault” or “I couldn’t help it.” The very earliest lessons of Genesis include learning that our decisions have consequences, and we must not blame others for our own choices.

There are surely other, largely parallel, paths to creating a kind and loving family, community, and nation. They are all to be commended, as ways of improving ourselves and thus everything we touch.

But all institutionalized practices to build and grow mankind away from nature are undermined by those who take the opposite view. Our enemies see nature as the ideal, and consequently praise giving in to our desires to riot with the other wildebeests, being true to our lusts and fetishes, taking advantage of weak-minded children for our own hedonistic pleasures, excluding and demonizing all outsiders.

We are in an existential battle for the future of mankind.

One reply on “The Meaning of Life”

sadly, we live in a world in which there is way too much intellectual dishonesty to engage with some people. they are constantly moving the goal posts. the torah demands fairness and treating each other alike. one rule for all. thus, we are challenged like no other generation on this issue.

Comments are welcome!

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