In our previous article, we began exploring the question of why Hashem created the world. The Maharal, Ramchal, and other key Jewish thinkers explain as follows: Hashem is absolute and ultimate goodness. However, there are two aspects of goodness. Hashem is good, but He also has the ability to do good unto others. Before Hashem created the world, there was only Hashem Himself. Therefore, Hashem was internally good, but He was not actively expressing this goodness by giving or doing good unto others. Hashem chose to express His capacity for doing good unto others by creating man, upon whom Hashem would bestow the ultimate goodness.
We ended off our previous article, however, with a very powerful question:
If Hashem’s goal was to give us the ultimate goodness, defined as connection with Him, and Olam HaBa is the place of this ultimate connection, then what is the purpose of this world? Why did Hashem create us in this world where we have to earn our share in the World to Come? If Hashem really wanted to give us the ultimate good, then why not give it to us to begin with for free? Why do we have to go through the difficult process of earning it in this world?
We Only Enjoy What We Earn
The Ramchal explains, based on the Talmud Yerushalmi (Orlah 1:3), that human beings are created in such a way that we don’t enjoy free handouts. A poor person is embarrassed to receive money from people, as there is shame in receiving something you did not work for. This concept is referred to as “nahama d’kisufa” (the bread of shame). There is an inherent embarrassment in receiving that which we did not earn (See beginning of M’silas Y’sharim, chap. 1. See also Daas T’vunos and Derech Hashem. See also Rav Yosef Karo, Maggid Meisharim, B’reishis, and Zohar 2:87a). Psychologically, we feel so much more connected to the achievements and rewards that we have earned than to those that we received for free. Just think about a child who works for a week to earn 20 dollars compared to that same child who gets 20 dollars for free. He would feel very differently toward that money. This is why, according to halachah, it is better to give a loan to someone in need than to give a free handout. A loan will be paid back, granting the borrower a feeling of independence instead of shame. Even better than a loan, the ideal is to find him a job, because this gives him a more permanent sense of independence and dignity.
Had Hashem created us in Olam HaBa, the goodness we would have received would have been free, unearned. This is the type of perfection that mal’achim (angels) enjoy. However, this is not the ultimate enjoyment. The ultimate enjoyment is perfection that is earned, that is chosen, that is an expression of all the hard work you have invested. However, while this appears to answer our question, there is still a very obvious problem with this explanation.
Why Not Create Us Differently?
We understand that human beings appreciate and enjoy that which we earn to an entirely different degree than that which we are given for free. This is why Hashem created us in this world – in order to give us the opportunity to earn our reward. Yet, if Hashem created the world, including humanity and our psychology, why couldn’t He simply create us in such a way that we do enjoy gifts and free handouts as much as we enjoy things that we have earned through hard work? Understanding our current psychology and our need to earn our reward does not answer why our psychology is wired this way in the first place. Why did Hashem create us in this way?
Marriage: True Oneness
It’s crucial to understand that the pleasure of connection with Hashem is not a simple, artificial, or external pleasure. It is not a gift that can be given from one person to another. This pleasure stems from an existential relationship, a connection of true oneness. It is impossible for a human being to have any kind of meaningful relationship with a rock. A rock is fundamentally different from a human being, and as such, there cannot be true connection between the two. A true relationship and deep connection are only possible between two beings that are similar. This is why human beings are able to build such deep relationships with one another.
Had Hashem created us in Olam HaBa in such a way that we enjoyed free handouts, we would have been diametrically opposed to Hashem’s essence. Hashem is the ultimate giver, and we would be the takers; Hashem acts out of complete free will, and we would have no choice. Hashem is the creator, and we would be the created with no power of creating; Hashem’s perfection is intrinsic (no one gave it to Him), while ours would be granted by Hashem. As fundamentally different “beings,” we would be incapable of forging a true connection with Hashem, and thus, Hashem would not be able to reveal the ultimate expression of His goodness, i.e., His ability to give of His goodness to another.
This is why Hashem created us imperfect. We get to choose and earn our perfection, our G-dliness. Hashem is perfect; we get to become perfect. Hashem is good; we get to choose to become good. We are born imperfect with the goal of becoming G-dly, to become perfect, all-knowing, all-good, all-kind, and to have complete self-control. However, this is the goal, not the starting point. We start out as animalistic beings. We are born with limited intellectual abilities and undeveloped character traits. We are selfish; we think that we are the only person who exists – we perceive ourselves as the center of our own universe – the exact opposite of G-dliness. The goal of life is to then become G-dly, to actualize our potential, and to become a perfected tzelem Elokim. As we have previously explained, the fetus learns kol haTorah kulah in the womb and then loses access to it upon being born into this world. We are born imperfect so that we can take the journey through this world of becoming perfect with the goal of recreating and earning what we originally received as a gift.
This is why we are given free will. We are tasked with the mission of choosing good, choosing perfection. Our mission in this world is to become great, to become G-dly. We live in a world of time and movement, of process and change, as our job in this world is to evolve and grow. Perfection lies in a transcendent realm, beyond process, beyond time. Becoming perfect requires time, movement, and process. We need to learn to ride the waves of time, utilizing it to the best of our ability. (In simpler terms, all growth requires process and the linear progression of time. We inhabit the physical world of time and space, the perfect environment for our journey of growth and ascension through the use of our free will.)
Along with the gift of free will, we are given obstacles and challenges that we face throughout our life. These challenges we face are not meant to stop us from achieving our greatness – rather the opposite. The Ramban explains that the purpose of challenges is to push us out of our comfort zone, to help us achieve our true potential (Ramban, B’reishis 22:1. See also Maharal, Gevuros Hashem, perek 22). Only when we are pushed to our limits do we begin to realize what we are truly capable of.
Our Olam HaBa Experience
Olam HaBa is the experience of enjoying everything we have built during our lifetime. Some people mistakenly think that the World to Come is a place where you receive an enjoyable reward, some kind of external prize. In reality, as the Ramchal, Nefesh HaChayim, and others explain, Olam HaBa is where you experience you. It is where you enjoy the ecstatic experience of the person and consciousness you’ve created – everything you’ve built and become during your lifetime. The problem is that many people think that they’ll live forever. In truth, time is dying. Every second fades away. But the question is not “How much time do we have left?” The question is “What will we do with the time we have left?” May we be inspired to utilize as many of the 86,400 seconds of each and every day on our paths to achieving our true greatness.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.