The Zohar/Rav Brandwein Writings
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Ramchal's - Daat Tevunot
taught by Rav Avraham Brandwein
We have two subjects before us: The Tachlit (Purpose and Goal) of Human Existence, and Why is There Suffering in the World?
The Creator of the World
Before we begin discussing the man's Tachlit (Purpose), we must prepare by laying down a basic foundation principle. Indeed, without this foundation, it is impossible to ask about the purpose of anything, let alone the purpose of human existence. What is this foundation? That this entire vast universe - the heavens and the earth, the mineral, the vegetable, the animal, and the human, the entirety of existence - was brought into existence by a Creator. That is, first of all, the universe (and the word "universe" indicates that we are talking about some "single" "unified" entity or whole which is greater than the sum of its parts) did not just into existence on its own. Neither is it something eternal, something that has existed forever, and continues to exist, again, on its own. Rather, it was created 1) ex nihilo 2) at a certain point in time, 3) by a Creator. How do we know this? There are a number of ways. The simplest is to consider the consummate harmony, order and symmetry of everything that exists - from the farthest galaxies and supernovas down to the smallest leaf, insect, subatomic particle and photon of light. All this evidences a single Guiding Hand, an Infinite Intelligence. I will not enter into details here, but it is possible to demonstrate logically that there is a Creator, and that He is Singular, Unique and the Unitary Source and Power behind all that exists.
This is the ultimate foundation upon which all of Judaism rests, namely, an unequivocal belief in the existence of the Creator. Only after this foundation has become our single point of departure can we ask about the Tachlit of human existence. For, as we said, without belief in a Creator, i.e. if the world is seen merely as a product of "nature" (or "natural" laws), or worse, a product of chance, there is no point in inquiring as to the purpose of anything - for there wouldn't be any. Only after it is clear to us that there is a God, and that He created the universe and its laws, can we be sure that there is a purpose to our existence. For a Wise Artisan never does anything without a reason, just as an intelligent human being never performs meaningless acts. For this reason we know that He who formed man did so with an Tachlit, an ultimate purpose in mind.
The Purpose of Creation
After this brief introduction, we should be ready now to ask: If so, if there is a Creator who created man for a purpose, what then is that purpose?
First, however, it is still possible to raise another difficulty. The existence of the Creator may be clear to us, as well as the fact that He created man with a purpose in mind. The problem is: Is it our place to ask what that purpose is? Perhaps that is God's affair, and beyond anything we could possibly understand.
We find the answer to this in the Sages' statement in the Midrash that everything God made when He first created the world requires Tikkun (i.e. the world man's involvement to bring it to its perfection). The verse says, "Elokim blessed the Seventh Day and set it aside to be holy, for on it He rested from all His work Asher Bara Elokim LaAsot - Which Elokim created to perfect."
The intention is that God created the world just as a builder builds a building. First, He created the entire cosmos, the heavens, the spiritual dimension, then the galaxies, our sun, our solar system, the planets, among them our earth, and the moon. On the earth, He created the sea and the dry land, vegetation, plant life. All this was a preparation for higher life forms, fish in the water, birds in the air, insects and mammals on the earth. Just as when a man designs a house with many rooms, and builds it with a specific Tachlit in mind, he then furnishes it with all that is necessary, plumbing, electricity, tables and chairs and beds, etcetra, and only afterwards the people for whom the house was built enter and live in it. After all, it was all done with them in mind. The entire house was built for them, and they are the ones who will inhabit the house.
In the same way, God prepared the earth and everything upon it, and only at the end, on the Sixth day of creation, did He create Adam (Man).
This is the meaning of the words Asher Bara Elokim LaAsot - That Elokim created to perfect. It is not only written "everything that Elokim created" but "created to perfect," i.e. for Man to perfect.
This is what Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal) refers to when he writes, "A person must know what his obligation is in the world (i.e. why he was born, the purpose of his existence)" (Mesilat Yesharim 1). Man must know that he has a Tachlit, and he must know what that Tachlit is - which is none other than to be an active partner with God in bringing the world to Tikkun, to perfection.
This answers our previous question: Not only is man allowed to ask what his Tachlit is, he must ask. For this asking does not come from a superficial curiosity, but an earnest desire to know what he must do (what his obligation is) in order to work with God to perfect creation.
Now that we know our Tachlit, and we also know that our quest to know our Tachlit is legitimate, the question becomes: How are we to go about fulfilling it? In order to formulate a proper answer to this question, we must contemplate the teaching handed down by our Sages concerning God's purpose in creating the world in the first place. As taught in a number of places, God created the world in order to give pleasure to His creations and bestow Divine Goodness upon them (see Etz Chaim, Shaar HaKlalim 1; Mesilat Yesharim 1; Derech Hashem 1:2:1.)
God's Tachlit: to bestow the greatest possible good. But wait, are we solely recipients of good? On the surface, we see the exact opposite. The world is filled with suffering. If so, if God's sole purpose in creating the world is to bestow supreme happiness and goodness - for it is the nature of the Good to bestow Good - and yet we do not see this - then it seems that the Tachlit for which God created the world is not being actualized.
On the surface, at least, this is what seems to be happening. The problem: This does not make sense.
Human beings who are not omniscient can plan to make something but, for unforeseen reasons, not see their plan come to fruition. All kinds of things can happen that simply were not taken into consideration.
But God is omniscient and omnipotent. It simply cannot be that He planned to create a world for a certain purpose, which, in the end, does not come out as planned.
The Root of Evil
Before we explain this in depth, however, we must know why God is called Absolute Good, in the sense that in all He does He will never bestow anything but the most absolute and perfect good, and His intention is always for the ultimate good.
The matter is like this: If we contemplate the essence of what it is to be human, we will discern that man was created with a tremendous sense of lack (need, deficiency, hence dependency). His whole existence is characterized by this sense of lack which he cannot satisfy except by obtaining something that lies outside of himself, i.e. outside his body. For example, when a person is hungry or thirsty, he fills his need by eating bread or drinking water which are found outside of himself. The same goes for all the other things man lacks and must work to acquire in order to satisfy his lack. The same goes for the acquisition of knowledge. We can only acquire wisdom from other human beings, that is, from teachers or books. The general principle in all this is: If we look at all that human beings do, every move they make, we will conclude that they do not move except to satisfy their lack.
This being the case, it is clear that a certain balance must be maintained. That is, man must make sure not to try to satisfy more than his genuine needs and lacks. In addition, he must always be careful to pay for what he takes to fill his needs. When this balance is not maintained - this is the root of every evil and destruction act ever perpetrated by a human being.
For instance, thievery and deceit begin at the point that a person wishes to satisfy a lack in a corrupt way. Similarly, a despot misuses his power over others, or oppresses them, when he wishes to satisfy his desires in a corrupt way. In all these cases, the root is that a person wishes to satisfy a lack in himself in a corrupt way. This is the root of all evil.
We thus learn that every movement a person makes is in order to satisfy a lack in himself. This is the most basic thing that motivates a person.
The same applies to the good things a person does. They also originate from the need to satisfy an inner lack. For instance, one person is kind to another in order to satisfy a need to be compassionate. Another person is creative in order to satisfy that inner drive and thereby achieve an inner sense of satisfaction and harmony.
All of this applies to man.
God, on the other hand, who created everything, does not need a thing. His perfection is intrinsic, and He has no lack or deficiency. All of His actions therefore flow only from perfection.
If so, then, according to what we stated above, that human actions are motivated by an inner lack, and because of this, evil can result from them, then, the exact opposite must be said about God, namely, that because He has no lack, He therefore acts only from absolute goodness. Everything He does can only result in good.
The question naturally arises: Why indeed was man created lacking, so that he must work and struggle to satisfy his every lack, and never acquire anything without toil? The answer is twofold: First, true pleasure can never exist without there first being a sense of lack that has been fulfilled. Second, the fulfillment itself can only come through having toiled, and never as a free gift.
The first condition is clear. What pleasure could we experience in receiving something we never lacked or wanted in the first place? The second condition is also necessary because man, by his very nature, does not wish to receive free gifts. Rather, he wants what he receives to be something he has earned by his own efforts.
This is also the reason why God created man with an inbuilt lack. God wish is to bestow good, but a created being can only receive His goodness if he first experiences lack and also works to earn good.
We now must explain what prevents us from receiving this good and what this has to do with the reason God created the universe and the purpose of our existence (which was to work with Him to perfect the universe, and thereby receive the good He wishes to give us not as a free gift but as an earned reward).
A connection must exist between any benefactor and recipient. Human beings require a common language and mutual understanding just in order to exist together. This is all the more true when they wish to work in partnership with each other to build something together. Without the right "chemistry," it is almost impossible to create a lasting bond.
This principle applies on a physical level, and all the more so on a spiritual level.
In order to receive the Shefa Eloki (the most sublime levels of Divine Inspiration and Guidance), we must align our will with God's Will. This alignment involves our emulating and resembling God, making ourselves like Him, as it is written, "God created Man in His image" (Bereshit 1:27, 9:6). [According to most commentators, this statement is to be understood allegorically. God does not have an Image, i.e. any visible or nonvisible form. Rather, just as God acts as a Free Being, so does man. Just as God operates without prior restraint, so does man. Just as God can do good as a matter of His own choice, so can man. When this awesome power of Free Will is used properly, directed properly -- and this includes wanting to become recipients of the Shefa Eloki -- this is called true emulation of God.]
Directing our will solely to desiring physical things that are transient, we show that we are not fit to receive the Shefa Eloki. By way of analogy, the shape of a vessel tells us quite a lot about its function. For instance, we would not use a flat tray or dish for a liquid, or conversely, a drinking cup for a loaf of bread. A vessel must be fit for the thing it is going to contain.
Similarly, we must cultivate the desire and will to receive the Shefa Eloki. Without this will, which is our vessel to receive Godliness, we cannot receive what we are supposed to receive. The desire to be a vessel for Godliness is thus a first condition.
But there is another condition that must be fulfilled before the Godly Light can be received. As noted above, there must be a connection between the Giver and the Receiver, the Benefactor and the Recipient. Since the desire of the Giver, God, is solely to bestow goodness and kindness, we must also desire to do the same. The problem is that if our desire is just to receive -- even if we wish to receive spirituality -- the Godly Light still will not dwell with us. Thus, it is not enough just to want to receive the Shefa Eloki, for the very desire to receive itself prevents us from resembling God as a Giver. [God is the Giver and we are the receivers, and as such, we are opposites. In a spiritual sense, we are as far from each other as north and south. As long as we are mere receivers, we stand at the opposite pole away from God, the Giver.] In order to overcome this dilemma, our desire must be to RECEIVE IN ORDER TO GIVE. This is the closest we can come to emulating God.
All suffering, affliction and evil in the world is rooted in our desire to receive for ourselves, in other words, our egos. It is the root of all wars between countries, and on an individual level, between each man and his neighbor. The truth is that there are enough natural resources to go around for everybody. If every country would develop its own natural resources wisely, there would be enough to provide livelihoods for all their citizens. The problem is that each one wishes to take what belongs to the other. This is the root of the desire for power, and hence of all international strife.
As we have seen, the Torah describes man as being created in God's image, "In the image of God, He created him, male and female He created them." Immediately following this, "God blessed them and said to them: Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth and conquer it. Rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every animal that walks the earth" (Bereshit 1:27- 28).
Man has permission to rule over the animals (and true rulership must be wise). He does not have permission to rule over other human beings. This is the sense of the verse in Kohelet, "There is a time when one man rules over another to afflict him" (Ecclesiastes 8:9), which refers to those afflictions that people suffer at the hands of other human beings. On the other hand, the purpose of natural afflictions that human beings suffer, such as sickness and natural disasters, is to break egotism and bring out true altruism (giving without a desire to receive in return). [Natural disasters are always followed by tremendous outpourings of selfless help by individuals and countries.] In the merit of altruism and compassion, mankind is saved from further suffering.
Thus, there are two forces impelling mankind toward altruism: One is the way of suffering which arouses compassion. This is the hard and difficult way. The second way is the way of the Torah and its commandments.
Why Torah and Mitzvot?
The Torah was given to Man in order to wean him of his selfish egotism and help him develop true altruism. This is what the Sages meant when they said, "[The commandments were not given because God needs our service, rather] the commandments were given to refine/perfect human beings" (Bereshit Rabbah 43:1). The Hebrew word used here is LeTzaref, to refine and purify. Just as silver is refined in order to purify it of its dross, so also the ego. For the ego is the root of all man's suffering. The ego -- the very desire to receive for oneself that separates man from God -- must be refined and transformed by acts of altruism -- the desire to give without receiving anything in return.
It is only because the Torah and the Mitzvot contain the Godly Light that they are capable of bringing mankind to this high level of altruism. This was the intention of our Sages when they paraphrased God saying, "I have created the yetzer hara -- the ego, the desire to receive -- but I have created the Torah to season/cure it" (Kiddushin 30b). [The Hebrew Tavlin means seasoning spice; the word cure in English has two meanings, salts and spices used to cure meat, and medications used to cure illness. A spice works to bring out the real taste of the food. A medication brings a sick patient back to health.] The Torah is thus a cure for man's egotism.
Only when man becomes capable of truly giving of himself does he resemble
His Creator. Only then can he receive the Shefa Eloki that God wishes to bestow
upon him. Because only then does he resemble and have some connection to the
Giver. And only then can he be close
This is the meaning of their famous statement: "Just as He is merciful and compassionate, so too shall you be merciful and compassionate" (Shabbat 133b). [Similarly, they said: What is the meaning of the verse (Devarim 13:5), "You shall follow the Lord your God, fear Him, keep His commandments, obey Him and serve Him, and bind yourself to Him." Is it possible to "follow the Lord [and bind yourself to Him]"? Isn't it also written (Devarim 4:24), "The Lord your God is a consuming fire"? Rather, emulate His attributes. Just as He clothes the naked... you too should clothe the naked; just as He visits the sick... you too should; just as He comforts mourners... you too should; just as He buries the dead... you too should" (Sotah 14a).]
Thus, just as all of God's actions are motivated by His Will and Desire to Bestow Good, so should all of your actions be motivated by the same desire.
The Universality of the Torah Israel is to set an example and be a light for all mankind.
Just as any group needs a leader to direct its members on the proper path, so also all of mankind requires a leader, Israel, to guide it towards its ultimate destiny [of transforming this planet into God's Temple]. This obligates the Jewish people to refine itself [from within] in order to fulfill its highest destiny [vis a vis the rest of mankind]. This is a twofold obligation [as God told Israel, "You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation dedicated to Me" (Shemot 19:4). "Kingdom of priests" defines Israel's relationship with the other nations of the world. "Holy nation" defines the inner conditions which will allow this relationship to be successful.]
Clearly, we are not referring here to any racial superiority, God forbid. For one, the definition of racism, in its negative sense, involves one nation subjugating another in order to suppress and tyrannize it for its own selfish interests. Jewish manifest destiny, on the other hand, is totally opposite. Jewish chosenness requires us to overcome all egotistical tendencies in order to develop and amplify true altruism, and this, so that the entire world will be elevated spiritually.
And this is why the Jewish people have suffered and endured adversity more than any other nation in the history of the world. It is because we have the moral responsibility of uplifting the entire world. And, as we said above, suffering merely forces us to fulfill what we are obligated to fulfill.
But we have to know that there is a SOLUTION for all this suffering. Just as science has discovered the cures to many diseases, we too have the ability to discover the solution and cure for all suffering and evil in the world. Because the solution is in our hands. We only need cultivate true altruism as the Torah teaches us, "Love your neighbor as yourself" or "Act lovingly towards your fellow as you would have him act towards you" (Vayikra 19:18), concerning which, Rabbi Akiva said, "This is the overriding universal principle of the entire Torah" (Bereshit Rabbah 24:7; Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4).
[See also Shabbat 31a where the Talmud tells of a non-Jew who wished to convert to Judaism. He came to Hillel and said: "I am ready to convert on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel (who was extremely patient even with such people) answered him: "Do not act towards your fellow in a way that you would not like him to act towards you. The entire Torah is included in this. The remainder elucidates how to go about doing this. Now go and learn." It is clear that Hillel has merely restated the Torah's positive formulation in the negative: "Do not act towards your fellow in a way that you would not like him to act towards you" is the inverse of "Act lovingly towards your fellow as you would have him act towards you."]
I will conclude with another verse that is connected to the month of Iyar. The verse states, "If you obey the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, carefully heeding all His commandments and keeping all His decrees, then [God promises:] I will not strike you with any of the diseases that I brought upon Egypt. I am God who heals you" (Shemot 15:26). We learn from here that it is in our power to bring all suffering to an end by fulfilling God's commandments with the proper intention, namely, with the intention of bestowing good. The initials of the last three words of this verse, Ani Hashem Rofe'echa (I am God who heals you) are Aleph-Yod-Resh, the letters of the word Iyar. Amen, may it be His Will.