The question took me aback. In response to a positive psychology article on the “meaning of meaning,” I wrote to the author and shared some ideas I had learned. Almost immediately, the author fired back a challenge: “What is meaningful ... to you?”

Thankfully, he narrowed it down to my viewpoint. But as I formulated one answer after another in my head, I realized that I had no immediate response. Weeks went by, and the question continued to nag at me. I use that word all the time; it’s a core concept to me as a writer. Still, I could not find that one concise way to summarize the concept in a way that would also be genuine and true.

Man’s Great Search ...

What better place to look for answers than Viktor Frankl, who opened the eyes of modern psychology to the realization that the essence of man lies not in the lust for pleasure or power as espoused by Freud and Nietzsche, but in the search for meaning. Like the will to survive, says Frankl, we have a will for meaning.

That’s awesome! But then what?

Are You Asking the Right Question?

Our American founding fathers guaranteed us the right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Attaining it, however, is another story. The problem with the pursuit of happiness, explains Frankl, is that it cannot be pursued; rather, it must ensue. In other words, happiness is not an end goal, but rather, the by-product of how you live your life. When you dedicate yourself to a cause greater than yourself, happiness naturally follows.

I realized that the difficulty with answering the question of “meaning” was not just that I was trying to reduce a complex idea to a one-line sound bite, but that it was the wrong question to begin with. Who am I to say? When asked to define obscenity, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice famously said, “I know it when I see it.” On what basis do I “know” what is meaningful? And even if I did, of what use would that be to anyone else?

What If G‑d Wants Us to Pursue Holiness?

G‑d does not command us to pursue, define or know “meaning;” G‑d commands us to be holy. If we dedicate ourselves to living holy lives, as defined by G‑d, then “meaning” ensues. A meaningful life is the natural by-product of a life guided by Torah. And in contrast to the elusive and deceptive pursuit of happiness, G‑d lays it out for us.

A Nation of Well-Diggers

Nitzavim (or Nitzavim/Vayeilech when it’s a double Torah reading) occurs on the last day of Moses’ life, when the stakes couldn’t be higher or the plea more from the heart. Even now, we should be leaning in to hear his parting words.

“It is not hidden from you, and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, ‘Who can ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?’ Nor is it across the sea [for you] to say, ‘Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?’ Rather, the matter is very near to you—in your mouth and your heart—to perform it.”

As the Jewish people were about to make the long-awaited transition into the Land of Israel, it was essential for them to understand that they had all the spiritual tools they would need, and that G‑d and Torah would always be with them. This was a critical time both for Moses and the Jewish people. Like leaving Egypt, the Jewish people were headed into a new paradigm. But now, bereft of the leaders who had been a constant presence, they needed to internalize everything they had learned in the desert.

And so, Moses’ words come as a relief. We don’t even have to look outside of ourselves; we are hard-wired for holiness (and thereby, meaning). Perhaps that’s why Torah is compared to water, and Abraham, Isaac and Miriam were well-diggers.

If we have an inalienable right, it is this: to dig our well and drink in the holy waters of Torah.

Make Sure You’re in the Right Place

I joined a Meet-Up group that hosts musical gatherings in people’s homes. The evite gave the address and these instructions: Walk through the door, and you’ll know you are in the right place. In other words, in case you’re not sure which is the right house, if you open the door and hear the sound of music, then you’ll know that you’ve arrived.

The search for meaning is not an external quest but a revealed truth. If you open the door and find holiness, you are in the right place. Dedicate your life to emulating G‑d—walking in His ways of kindness and truth, mercy, justice and compassion—and true meaningfulness will naturally ensue.