Imagine you wake up one morning with $86,400 in your bank account. You can’t invest or save this money, and whatever is left over at the end of the day disappears. What would you do with your $86,400? Would you leave a single penny unspent? Of course not!
Well, each and every day we are given 86,400 seconds. It’s deposited into our bank account called “life.” And every day, whatever we don’t spend is lost forever. Nobody would throw away money. So how can we possibly do that with our time? Time is infinitely more valuable than money! You can’t borrow time or trade for someone else’s. The time you’re given is exactly what you’ll have. Time management is your decision of how to spend your time, your 86,400 precious seconds.
Striving for Greatness
In essence, this is another inspiring call for us to “achieve greatness,” something we have heard all too many times before. Across all disciplines of thought, we are told that we should strive for greatness, making it seem as if the goal of life is to become great. Yet, very few people actually articulate or explain why we should strive for greatness. How many times have we questioned this premise, asking ourselves “why” we should become great?
Psychologists have often claimed that the secret to happiness is largely found in achievement and personal fulfillment. However, this obsession with achieving happiness reveals the assumption of popular psychology: that the goal and purpose of life is to be happy.
Is this true? What is the Jewish perspective on the goal of life? Do we limit ourselves to our own individual happiness, or should we be striving for something even deeper and greater? Furthermore, some people might claim that they’re perfectly happy not striving for perfection. If greatness is merely a means to attaining happiness, then if we can achieve happiness without achieving greatness, there would be nothing wrong with that. This begs the question: Is there a deeper purpose to achieving greatness and striving for perfection? What is the Jewish perspective on achieving our own potential, our own greatness?
In order to gain perspective on these questions, let us go back to the very root, to the creation of the world. Hashem created an imperfect world full of imperfect human beings, giving us the mission to achieve perfection. There are a number of questions we must ask on this: First of all, how can a perfect G-d create an imperfect world and imperfect beings? Does that not contradict the very nature of being perfect? Wouldn’t a perfect G-d create a perfect world? And if our mission and purpose in life is to reach our own perfection, why is the world so full of obstacles and challenges that often seem to prevent us from reaching that perfection?
Two Fundamental Prerequisites
Before we begin discussing the fundamental principles of this world and the nature of man’s existence, we must first establish the following two qualifications: First, whenever we speak of Hashem, we are referring to our relationship with Him and how He appears to us, not the infinite, objective, and unknowable truth of His reality. As the Rambam, Maharal, Ramchal, and other baalei machashavah explain, we can never know Hashem Himself; we can only know how He relates to and appears to us.
If this seems abstract and elusive, think about this: You can never truly know your friend or loved one. You can’t see their thoughts, their mind, their consciousness, or even their emotions. All you can ever see is how they express themselves through their physical body – their actions, words, facial expressions, and body language. Through this, we can come to know someone more and more. Similarly, we can never know Hashem Himself; He’s infinite and completely beyond our comprehension. However, we can know Hashem by understanding the way He reveals Himself to us – through His creations, through the physical world, and through His Torah – which is a revelation of His will and thought. Thus, when we speak about why Hashem created the world, we are only discussing it based on our understanding of Hashem.
The second prerequisite is to understand that Hashem did not need to create the world. The Rambam and Ramchal explain that Hashem chose to create the world. Unlike Aristotle, who claimed that G-d was forced to create the world (that, by definition, G-d [the prime mover] must have created the world, and therefore, the world must have always existed), we believe that Hashem chose to create the world of His own free will – without any external stimulus or reason.
Why Hashem Created the World
The Maharal, Ramchal, and other key Jewish thinkers explain a fundamental reason for why Hashem created the world. 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.
The Ultimate Good
If Hashem’s goal in creating the world was to bestow the ultimate goodness unto man, we must then ask, what is the ultimate goodness that Hashem can give? If Hashem Himself is the ultimate goodness, then the ultimate goodness Hashem can give is the ability to enjoy Hashem Himself, to enjoy G-dliness, to enjoy the ultimate connection with Hashem. This is the experience of being all-knowing, all-kind, all-loving, all-powerful, of having complete self-control (inasmuch as is possible for one who is “other” than Hashem Himself). These are truly G-dly experiences, experiences of Olam HaBa.
Marriage with Hashem
To add an additional layer to this explanation, when Hashem created man, He did so to create a marriage relationship with him. Marriage is when two people connect in such a deep way that they fuse existentially into one. As we have previously explained, this is why Adam and Chavah were originally created as one being; it was to show them, and us, that the goal of marriage is to become one, to recreate the original oneness that they once shared. This is also why the relationship between klal Yisrael and Hashem is referred to as a marriage. At Har Sinai, the Jewish People married Hashem – with the mountain serving as the chupah (marriage canopy). Shir HaShirim is a sefer that Chazal interpret as a description of the love-relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People. This is the original connection that Hashem intended to forge with man when He created him. Hashem therefore created us in this world to earn our share in Olam HaBa, the place where each of us can enjoy this existential connection and oneness with Hashem. However, there is an obvious problem with this.
Why Not Free?
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? In our next article, we will attempt to answer this question and continue exploring this extraordinarily important topic.
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.