A Quick Aside: God and the Meaning of Life (1)

Ramchal offers us this astounding remark in the Mishna of Petach 3: The world was ultimately created so that God could be beneficent … (and) to bestow utmost goodness upon the universe. Contained in that statement are answers to two of the most vexing existential questions of all: why God created the universe, and (by extension) what the meaning of our lives is. Let’s tread lightly into those eternal topics now [1].

While Ramchal discusses God’s reason for having created the universe in a number of places, his point here is that it comes down to the fact that God did so in order to bestow goodness upon it [2]. Elsewhere though he famously offered that we were created to “delight in God and enjoy the radiance of His Divine presence” (Messilat Yesharim Ch. 1) [3]. But what that seeming contradiction speaks to is the fact that while God does indeed want us to experience goodness, nonetheless since the greatest goodness we can experience in fact is His own presence, then our having that experience is His ultimate goal for us [4].



[1]       In fact, Ramchal adjured us (in the work that serves as an introduction to Klach in some editions, which is otherwise known as Derech Eitz Chaim) to make a point of setting aside time to ask ourselves who we are at bottom, why we were placed in the world, what God requires of us, and what will be our end.

[2]       See Derech Hashem 1:2 (beginning); Sod HaYichud (Ginzei Ramchal p. 265); Da’at Tevunot 18; Ma’amar HaChochma, “V’omek Shel HaInyan”; and Iggerot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at, “Yediah Sheniya”.

God’s overarching benevolence was discussed in earlier classical works: see for example Emunot v’De’ot (Introduction to Section 3), Ohr Hashem 2:6:5 (and elsewhere there), Sefer HaYashar (1), and Eitz ChaimSha’ar HaKlallim (beg.).

[3]       He actually wrote there that indeed “we were created to delight in God and enjoy the radiance of His Divine presence”, but he added that “the means to bring you to this goal are the mitzvot that God has commanded”, and thus “the main purpose of our having been placed in this world was to observe the mitzvot, to serve God, and to withstand spiritual trials” (Ibid.). The point of the matter, though, is that while we were placed in this world in order “to observe the mitzvot, to serve God, and to withstand spiritual trials”, since all of that will contribute to our earning a place in the World to Come, in truth our ultimate reason for having been created was to “delight in God and enjoy the radiance of His Divine presence”, and that can only be experienced in the World to Come.

That distinction also explains his statement elsewhere that “the universe was created so that “God’s Yichud can manifest itself before everyone” (Da’at Tevunot 34, 36, 44,48, 116, 158; also see Petach 4 where he writes that The Infinite One wanted to express utter and complete benevolence … so He set out to (eventually) reveal His Yichud), which we’ll discuss in detail below. The point is that God wants us to delight in His presence in the World to Come. See the next note as well.

[4]          See Petach 4 (p. 13) and Derech Hashem 1:2:1.

(c) 2010 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org


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One response to “A Quick Aside: God and the Meaning of Life (1)

  1. Pingback: The ultimate goal is to bestow utter and perfect beneficence | Ramchal

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