A Quick Aside: God and the Meaning of Life (2)

So at bottom God created the cosmos en toto so that you and I can encounter His Being out and out.  It stands to reason that would be so, Ramchal asserts in Petach 3, since God is good and “good beings want to do good things”, by definition and to give of themselves [1]. Ramchal’s point then is that God’s beneficence is utterly, boldly altruistic on His part without any thought of Himself.

But there’s a snag. We’re not inclined to accept out-and-out benevolence, because of a uniquely human inability to accept a favor without being embarrassed by our benefactor’s largesse. As our sages put it, “One who eats what is not his is ashamed to look in his (benefactor’s) face” (J. T., Orlah 1:3) [2].

So in order to avoid this, we’re told, and to assure the fact that we wouldn’t be “ashamed to accept” his benevolence (Petach 4), God saw to it that humankind would “have a way of doing something to earn the good that they’d receive” (Ibid.). That way we’d enjoy what had come to be ours through our own efforts, and we’d thus be willing participants in the process He wants us to be [3].

In order to facilitate that effort God set out to create the system of good and evil (to allow for our good and bad choices), of reward and punishment (to affirm the seriousness of each one of our choices), and free will (to in fact allow us our own input).

With all that in place, God will indeed then be able to “express utter and complete benevolence in such a way that its recipients wouldn’t be ashamed to accept it” — since we would have earned it and would be willing to accept it.

All that goes to explain our raison d’être, as we’ll see.

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Notes:

[1]         See Da’at Tevunot 18 as well as Petach 3.

The idea that God is sure to do good by virtue of the fact that “good beings want to do good things”, is curious and almost seems to suggest that God is compelled by a kind of law of nature to that affect.

But as R’ Chaim Friedlander’s points out (see his note 2 on p. 4 of his edition of Da’at Tevunot), it’s absurd to suggest that God is compelled to do anything by nature. It’s best to say instead that He simply willed that such a rule be in place which He then chose to abide by (see Friedlander’s note 19 on p. 51 there as well).

Also see Shomer Emunim (1:53) for the same idea, though he doesn’t address the subject at hand per se there.

This solves another quandary: the idea that God created the world to offer His largesse seems to suggest that creating beings somehow fulfills God, which is of course absurd. But the point once again is that God simply willed there to be an apparent “need” for the world to exist.

Also see Leshem, Chelek HaBiurim, Drushei Iggulim v’Yosher 1:1.

[2]       This notion, known as Nahama D’kisufa (“The Bread of Shame”), which has taken on a life of its own in contemporary Kabbalistic and Chassidic thought and has assumed the role of a near principle of the Faith, is also cited in Tosephot to Kiddushin 36b, “Kawl Mitzvah”; R’ Yoseph Karo’s Maggid Maisharim (Breishit, “Ohr Layom Shabbat 14 Tevet”); R’ Menachem Azariah De Fano’s Yonat Elim(beginning); and the anonymous Orchot Tzaddikim’s Sha’ar HaBusha. But its sure standing in contemporary thought is one of Ramchal’s many unique contributions to our understanding of traditional Jewish philosophy. Also see Derech Hashem 1:2:2

See R’ Shriki’s note 7* on pp. 13-14 of his edition of Da’at Tevunot, and his  note 29 on pp. 16-17 of his edition of Derech Hashem where he raises the question as to why God couldn’t have just undone this anomaly.

[3]       Recall that Ramchal’s point has been that everything created — every single item, person, phenomenon, and process — is part of a great and splendid “device”, if you will, whose sole aim is to serve as a recipient of God’s largesse. The implications of that are of course quite stunning, breathtaking, even undoing, since it implies that nothing has a life or raison d’être of its own so much as a role to play in the revelation of God’s sovereignty. Yet we’ve also been taught that we have free will, which would clearly affirm our own personal reality as well as our importance in the makeup of the universe. So what role do we play in the end? Significantly, since it’s we alone who allow for the revelation of God’s Yichud in the world we clearly matter infinitely much.

(c) 2010 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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