The Secret of the Universe

As I walked through the streets of New York City one chilly morning last April, a young woman with a big smile threw her hand in front of me and cheerfully yelled:  “Free bag! Want a free bag?”

“Sure.” I thought. “I can always use an extra reusable cloth tote.”

The bag she handed me was cream in color, featuring black print across the front that read: “The Secret of the Universe.” This seemed perfect!  I had just finished a three-day conference with Rabbis Without Borders, where 22 rabbis from across the country and beyond the denominational boundaries had come together to wrestle with how to bring meaning to our lives and the lives of the people we touch.  And here I was, with a few hours to spare on that windy day in Manhattan, running errands before my flight back to Austin, and a friendly blond woman was offering me a simple cloth bag that would disclose the answer to that very question with which rabbis have struggled for millennia.

I peered inside the bag and pulled out a card. “The secret of the Universe” – read the card – was Bobbi Brown concealer.

On the surface – just like the literally superficial makeup this bag was advertising – this whole notion of finding “the secret of the universe” seems like a cliché, maybe even silly.  But, in truth, Bobbi Brown’s marketing people are onto something – something beneath the skin. They are tapping into our deep human desire to unlock meaning in our lives.  Framed in this way, I don’t think any of us would call it silly. When I sit with folks who are battling cancer, struggling to heal traumatized relationships, or searching for a transformative career change, the question of “meaning” is far from silly; it is essential.

But Judaism teaches us that the answer to the question — “What is the secret that gives our lives meaning?” – isn’t found in a magical compact of make-up used for concealing. Rather, it is found on the opposite end of the spectrum – in deep and honest revealing. That’s the deeper truth of Jewish wisdom: “the secret” is located in sacred connections, holy experiences, and loving relationships that don’t conceal – but rather reveal – goodness and light.