The Meaning of Life is Not 42

Meaning Of Life Is Not 42

In the sci-fi fantasy titled The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams notes that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, is 42. He must have consulted the Torah which indeed has 42 lines per column, and interestingly, the exodus from Egypt entailed 42 stops. There is also in Kabbala reference to a very holy 42 lettered name of Ein Sof (the Creator who ‘has no end’)

However, in Jewish spiritual thinking, it is the number seven, the number of perfection, that is most associated with the meaning of life. After all it represents the perfection of the seven days of creation. Seven also characterises the seven weeks of counting of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot when we strive for perfection of our personality, and seven is the number of years of Shemitta i.e. resting the earth’s ground to perfect its capacity to provide growth. Furthermore, there were seven branches of the candelabra in the Temple. And you may have noted that a rainbow has seven colours, and music has seven notes. Seven: seems to be the number representing creation’s natural law.

So, it comes with some surprise that this week’s Torah reading is named after the number eight. But surprise turns to wonder when we understand that eight is the number representing ‘beyond natural law’ or infinity (which interestingly is the number 8 but drawn laterally viz. ∞ ). Hence Channuka lasts eight days because of the supernatural victory of the Maccabees who were totally outnumbered by the Assyrian Greek army, as well as the miracle of a tiny cruse of oil that lasted a full eight days. Likewise, circumcision take place on the eighth day. Since Brit Mila is a supernatural and logic-defying covenant with G-d.

In truth, we all possess the number eight within, which enables us to carry out superhuman feats under duress such as a mother lifting a car off her child that had been run over. Or a soldier shot in war but continuing to fight, completely oblivious of being shot.

The Jewish people relate to eight much more than to seven. Our continued existence for over 3500 years is beyond sociological logic and against all odds – it defies the laws of nature. It defies the historical challenges to our survival and defies the ugly countenance of antisemitism. Our survival is miraculous, beyond natural law.

I guess that the ultimate meaning of life is not 42n, but rather 8. Move over Douglas Adams!