Yes, I know that the wonderful drugs the doctors inject into their patients do a lot to create that sense of elation at the end of surgery. However, I think there is also something more.
As the surgeon was finishing his work, and as I emerged from sedation, I took in my surroundings in the operating room. Then, I was surprised to hear myself uttering a blessing that I had not previously planned on reciting. I said (in Hebrew), "Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, who has performed a miracle for me in this place!"
When we face those moments in which we are forced to look at the miracle of our existence, we also are forced to recognize how incredibly lucky we are--no matter what the reason--that we have been given this gift of life. The experience of life awakens wonder and joy.
I've been thinking about this because several of my readers, both in the comments of my previous post and in other conversations, have told me that they think that meaning is the thing that is missing in today's Judaism. In order to stir the interest and enthusiasm of today's Jews, Judaism needs to answer "the big questions" of life and offer people a sense of their life's meaning.
I'm all for that. I do believe that for Judaism to be fulfilling, it needs to offer its followers a sense of personal meaning. Those questions—Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Why does it matter what I do with my life?—do need to be answered if Judaism is to avoid becoming a "dry as dust" religion. Judaism cannot be joyful if it doesn't help us to see our own lives as being meaningful.
However, I think that the quest for meaning is only part of joyful Jewish living. Specifically, finding meaning in life is the response of the intellect to living life with joy. When our lives are in balance and we feel at ease in the world—when we feel that the universe is a place to which we belong—our intellect responds by filling the chasms of the world's seeming randomness with order and meaning. The mind responds to the soul's repose with answers to basic questions about who we are and what we are meant to do.
Judaism is more than a philosophy, and it is not enough to have a Judaism that answers "big questions." At the foundation of Judaism is the admission that we cannot always have answers to the mystery of the universe in which we live. Judaism is a faith and it calls us to wonder at a world that is beyond our ability to make sensible.
In the book of Job, the biggest questions are left unanswered. God says, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations? Speak if you have understanding" (Job 38:4). Job is left (and so are we) with the challenge of finding equanimity in a universe that he cannot understand—a universe that defies the limits of meaning. He can only say, "See, I am of small worth; what can I answer You? I clap my hand to my mouth" (40:4).
There are those moments in which we can only admit that our power to find meaning is useless. We clap our hands to our mouths and discover that our sense of equanimity in the universe to which we belong is far more than an intellectual idea. It is a repose of the soul that we gain by living a life in harmony with God and the world around us. It is the soul, not the intellect, that cries out joyfully, Blessed is the One who has given us a world filled with miracles!