We can now also settle the fourth question.
(Which was,) how could God, who is all-good and innately benevolent, have purposefully created so many people who suffer and are tried their whole lives long?
After all, as the question continues in the original, “Wouldn’t an all-good Creator be expected to be benevolent — if not at least less malevolent?”
It thus comes to this. The (reality of the) first era necessitated all our trials and tribulations. For we humans have to choose either the path of Torah or the path of trial and tribulation in order to achieve the complete immortality that’s due us in the third era.
See Ch. 15.
That is, the third era will come about one way or the other, as a natural outcome of the fact that the first era had already been. And since we learned that there are only two ways to earn a place in the third era: by either faithfully adhering to God’s mitzvah-system, or by suffering trials and tribulations (see 16:2), it’s clear that we shouldn’t be surprised by the existence of trials and tribulations, since they serve a profound and ultimately benevolent end.
And (besides,) all those trials and tribulations only affect the husk that is our body (and person, but no deeper), which was only created (in the first place) to perish and be interred.
So while pain does indeed ache, and oftentimes gnaws at our beings and grates at our bones, in the end that’s as far as it will ever go. For it will inevitably end up being nothing but a bitter and black memory that will itself vanish in the end, too (even though we never thought it would), much as our physical beings will.
What that all comes to teach us is that our ratzon l’kabel was only created to (eventually) be annihilated and removed from the world, and to be transformed into a ratzon l’hashpia. And that all the trials and tribulations we suffer are (at bottom only meant) to serve as means of disclosing the ratzon l’kabel’s essential nothingness and great harmfulness.
Some wiser, more fortunate souls learn from adversity. They come to discover from poverty, for example, how to make do with what they have, use it to the maximum, and enjoy it. (Everything they own becomes even more luscious and rich as a result, if they become prosperous).
We ourselves are expected to be more thoughtful and insightful about our trials and tribulations in this second era (which will inevitably lead to the third era, at the beginning of which the following will all take place).
For while trials and tribulations are dreadful, before they vanish (which they inevitably will do) we can learn from them that the ultimate purpose they served was to have us realize just how harmful their cause — our self-absorption — (our ratzon l’kabel) had been all along, and how much pain it had caused us.
Indeed, once we do that we can purposefully adopt the alternative, selflessness (a ratzon l’hashpia), and immediately realize its benefits. Or we can have suffered trials and tribulations, and have learned nothing from them (as most people do), and inherit a ratzon l’hashpia despite ourselves. But what benefits are there to becoming selfless? As we’ll see …
Understand (as well) that once all of humanity agrees to abolish and eradicate its ratzon l’kabel and to wants nothing other than to bestow upon others, all our worldly worries and injuries will cease to exist, and everyone will be assured of a healthy and full life. For everyone would have an entire world concerned for him alone and with satisfying his (every) need.
But there’ll always be (the sort of) worries, trials and tribulations, wars, and bloodshed that we can’t (yet) avoid that dispirit, afflict, and pain us as long as everyone only wants things for his own benefit.
This is a quite remarkable section that cries out for explanation. First off it’s important to know that this will all happen at the beginning of the third era, since it refers to both mundane and rarefied events that will only come about then — when Heaven and Earth commingle as they wouldn’t have till then and would always do from then on.
The point is that the essential nothingness and great harmfulness of the ratzon l’kabel pointed to above will become clear to all of humanity by that point; each and every person will decide that he or she had had enough of it, and would elect to express a ratzon l’hashpia instead.
Understand, of course, that this will be a massive and fulgent instance of pure, selfless knowing and revelation that is far out of our experience, and only comparable to the one that the Jewish Nation people achieved when they said Na’aseh v’Nishma — “We’ll do (all that’s asked of us right here and now, as God speaks) and listen (to His explanations afterwards)” (Exodus 24:7), after having been granted the Torah. After all, we’d be abandoning everything de rigueur and natural, and embracing a wholly new and unaccustomed perspective that would threaten us to the core!
But the shift will happen, we’re assured, and it will sit well with us after a time because we’d see the benefits. For by virtue of the fact that we’d all have chosen to bestow rather than take-in, whenever one of us wanted or needed something, the rest of us would be ready to bestow it upon him. And no one would ever lack for anything again.
Parenthetically, Ashlag says in many places that we humans actually don’t have the ability to assume a ratzon l’hashpia on our own, and that the only thing we’re expected to do realistically to realize one would be to pray to God that He grant it to us; so how could the above statement stand? Apparently Ashlag’s point is that we will indeed have come to pray for it by that point — every single one of us — because it would have been the beginning of the third era by then; and the force of that universal prayer will storm the gates of Heaven and allow for the possibility.
In point of fact, though, all the world’s trials and tribulations are only phantasms displayed before our eyes in order to prod us to undo the wrongful husk of the body (i.e., our ratzon l’kabel) and to accept upon ourselves the proper tsurah of the ratzon l’hashpia.
Each and every cataclysm and calamity we’d ever suffered, we’ll learn, was nothing but a fable and as misleading as a nightmare. All it ever did was serve as a study in what matters and what doesn’t, what’s immutable and what ephemeral. The lesson we’ll draw from it is this: the only reason we ever suffered was because we were always and only self-absorbed. And only now (we’ll say in the third era), when we’re no longer self-absorbed and are fully blessed and content instead, do we know how true that all is.
But as we’ve said, (following) the path of trial and tribulation (in contradistinction to the path of Torah and mitzvot) will (also) grant us the means to assume the better tsurah (of a ratzon l’hashpia).
That is, we’ll all perforce become selfless, as we’ve said; and we’ll always have the option of learning the above lesson by means of experiencing trial and tribulation on our own, and then “getting it”. But Ashlag’s implication is that we could learn the very same lesson — though more painlessly and expeditiously — by drawing upon the wisdom of Torah which teaches us that, and by living out its life-lessons through the mitzvah-system.
Nonetheless know that fulfilling interpersonal mitzvot takes precedence over fulfilling the more sacramental ones (having to do with our relationship to God), because (in the end) our bestowing upon others (by fulfilling interpersonal mitzvot) will have us bestow upon God (too, as a matter of course).
His final point here is that we’re nonetheless to know that there are mitzvot, and there are mitzvot.
There are the more ceremonial ones (like donning tephillin, observing Shabbat, eating Matzah on Passover, etc.) that are relatively easy to fulfill since they only require that we do what God — who is invisible, never complains, and is ever receptive and grateful — asks us to; and there are the interpersonal ones (like giving charity, visiting the sick, loaning money, etc.) that are more difficult, since they demand that we contend with others’ own self-interests, which always run counter to our own.
In any event, the sort of muscular rowing against the deafening flux of egos we’d have to engage in to satisfy another’s needs while subduing our own would serve us better in the end, since it would help us achieve a ratzon l’hashpia, and make it easier for us to acquiesce to God’s will when that goes against the grain.
(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.
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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).