17. Created for Pleasure
Life, universe, and the purpose of everything.
1:2:1 (Part 1)
Section 1: Fundamentals of Existence
Chapter 2: Purpose of Creation
"The purpose of all that G-d created was to bestow of His good to another."
The moment we've been waiting for... The bottom line purpose of creation:
Life is a divine gift. It's all for us. All for our pleasure!
If we pay careful attention to the language, we'll notice that the Ramchal is neatly ignoring the question of why, and replacing it with the idea of purpose. Sure, if the infinite Being created something, one can assume there is a purpose to the creation. What other option is there? That G-d did it by accident? On a nonsensical whim? For entertainment? As a science experiment? Those actions would clearly be the product of a finite being with limitations.
Can G-d be Selfish?
Just to be sure that we're clear on the Ramchal's point, let's examine one other alternative. Could we posit the idea that creation was done for G-d's own sake? That He did it because He ultimately gains something from it?
As we've described many times in chapter 1, when it comes to really grasping G-d, we have to settle for having an approach that's intellectually and logically sound, even though it's outside of the range of human imagination and experience. It makes sense that G-d created as a total act of giving, but we have no parallel human example of such an act.
As we pointed out in the last class, when we examine all human action, whether benevolent or greedy, altruistic or self-serving, spiritual or animalistic, it can all be typified as a drive for personal gain or fulfillment. This point is so profoundly true, that when we look at the times we are most selfless, we often find that those are precisely the times that we gained the deepest pleasures! Does that mean that deep down we are all just greedy and selfish? No. It means that we're psychologically hard-wired to pursue pleasure in every decision we make.
- The drive to go to the dentist to get your teeth drilled?! You're avoiding a later bigger pain.
- The drive to risk your life to save a drowning child? It's the deep pleasure of doing the right thing.
- The drive for a life of cocaine addiction? Choosing the short-term pleasure of the high over the pain of rehabilitation and the long-term pleasure of stability and self-respect.
- The drive to hurt someone? The pleasure of egotistical control.
So let's be clear: G-d can't be a taker. G-d can't undergo any kind of change, so He certainly can't "gain" by creating. When we're using human concepts like "giving" and "taking," we should define our terms to see to what degree they can conceptually apply to G-d. "Giving" is not necessarily an act of transferring goods to another. "Giving" someone a lay-off notice because the company is downsizing, is not an act of giving. It's the boss looking out for his own interests, over the interests of his employee.
On the other hand, when my daughter hands me her 572nd finger painting of a tree from nursery school, why am I taking the picture? (I certainly don't need another one. I ran out of space for these things years ago!) My "taking" the picture is actually an act of giving. I'm giving her the pleasure of giving me a picture.
Even though there is always an element of gaining pleasure from every one of our actions, this does not mean to imply that we're selfish. There is clearly a moral and psychological difference between one who raises money for homeless shelters and one who mugs people. So maybe we can pose the following definition:
Giving = an act where my intent is for the other's benefit.
Taking = an act where my intent is for my own benefit, regardless of the other's interests.
This doesn't mean that "taking" is a bad thing. When I go into a local store to buy some muffins, I'm really not interested in their profits. I just want the muffins, and I'll get them wherever they are most cheaply and conveniently available. I don't expect the competition down the street to say "Hey, why didn't you buy my muffins. Don't you care about my income?" And for the same reason, when the salesman says, "You'll love these muffins," I know that he probably only wants me to love them so I'll come back tomorrow and buy more!
So now let's apply these definitions to G-d. Can G-d be a taker – i.e. create the world for His own benefit? Of course not. It violates the very idea of what infinite is.
Could G-d be a giver – i.e. create a world where His intent is specifically for our benefit? That fits the idea of creation perfectly. In fact, King David said precisely that: "G-d built the world on kindness."1
Does G-d Have Free Will?
Before going further in understanding the purpose of creation, let's take a moment to grasp the idea of G-d "deciding" to do anything. Of course, we already know (1.1.5), that anything we use to describe G-d's actions is going to be from a human perspective. And from our human perspective, there seem to be two possibilities: a) G-d chose to "bestow of His good to another," or b) G-d's very nature necessitates such a creation. And as we said in 1.1.5, the best we can do is to find the less limiting way of describing G-d's actions.
In this case, we encounter a difficulty if we suggest that G-d, so to speak, "had no choice" but to create. Let's remember something the Ramchal mentioned in 1.1.4:
It is furthermore necessary to know that G-d's existence does not depend on anything else at all. His existence is intrinsically imperative.
To say that G-d "had to" create implies that G-d is not quite fully
But to make such a comparison to G-d places a limit on an infinite being. G-d can't become something else or change in any way. So we might want to conclude the opposite: that G-d really had no need to create, and therefore it's a perfect free will decision. Nothing exists outside of G-d and His will, so there are no other factors to motivate or push G-d into the decision to create.
At the same time, look at what the Ramchal says in The Knowing Heart:
From what we are able to grasp, the Creator is the ultimate good. But it is the nature of good to bestow good. This is why G-d created men – so the He could bestow His good upon them. For when there is no receiver, there is no bestowal of good.
Huh?! This sounds like precisely what we just negated. G-d had to create? Let's take a step back and reexamine the problem. What do we mean when we say that G-d is good? Do we mean that G-d is bound to act in accordance with goodness? Impossible. "Goodness" is not a force that exists independently that we can measure against G-d. "Goodness" must be the very nature of G-d Himself. So in that sense, what we're saying is that the very nature of creation must be seen as an act of goodness.
In other words, G-d had total free will in deciding to bestow goodness. But by necessity, once G-d made that decision, it had to entail the creation of an "other" upon whom G-d could bestow His goodness. In the notes to Da'at Tevunot, Rabbi Chaim Friedlander explains:
Because of our own natural limitations, we can't actually grasp anything at all of G-d's essence, or of the essence of His thoughts or of His will, and therefore the Ramchal says, "From what we are able to grasp." When he says that "it is the nature of good to bestow good," he means that these are the revelations of G-d that He created for us, according to our limited grasp and for our sakes, so that we have some way of understanding these traits, and have some way of connecting to Him through them.
Crowning G-d as King on Rosh Hashana
When we ask the fundamental question of the purpose of creation, we see that the Ramchal 's approach is very consistent with the idea of G-d's infiniteness, i.e. the idea that G-d can't have any needs or desires. On the other hand, we see other Torah sources that seem to say the exact opposite!
Probably the most famous example is an idea we often hear during the High Holidays. The Talmud2 teaches that G-d says:
"On Rosh Hashana , say Malchiyot [verses proclaiming G-d's Sovereignty] before Me... so that you may crown Me as King over you."
The Sages explain that a king is really not a king unless there is a people to willingly recognize his kingship and proclaim him as king. Thus, G-d created the world in order for the King to have His subjects.
Similarly, one of the central works of chassidut, Tanya, quotes the rabbinical saying that, "The purpose for which this world was created is that the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have an abode in the lower realms."3 This source as well suggests that G-d has some agenda, and gains in some way from His creation.
In truth, there is no disagreement amongst the Jewish sources on this question. How so? Because the Ramchal himself, in another famous work, Path of the Just, opens the book precisely with our concept of the purpose of creation. He says at the beginning of Chapter 1:
As the Sages have instructed us, man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing with G-d and getting the pleasure of being in His presence.
In other words, G-d created the world for our pleasure.4 The ultimate expression of this is the pleasure of spiritual connection to G-d, the source of existence.
And yet in Chapter 18 of Path of the Just, the Ramchal says:
The root of saintliness is epitomized in the statement of our Sages ( Brachot 17a), "Fortunate is the man whose toil is in Torah and gives pleasure to his Creator." The underlying idea is this: It is known which mitzvot are binding on all of Israel and to what extent one is bound by them. However, one who truly loves the Creator will not endeavor and intend to fulfill his obligations by means of the duty which is acknowledged by all of Israel in general, but will react in very much the same manner as a son who loves his father, who, even if his father gives only a slight indication of desiring something, undertakes to fulfill this desire as completely as he can...
The commandments, whose behests are clear and widely known, will serve as an indication to him of the will and desire of G-d... He will say, "Since I have seen that G-d's desire inclines toward this, I will use it as a sign to do as much as I can in relation to it, and to extend it into as many areas as I can envisage G-d's desiring its being extended into." Such a man may be called "one who gives pleasure to his Creator."
Did the Ramchal change his mind in the course of authoring these two books? Is there an ongoing disagreement among the classical sources and between the chassidim and others?
Not at all. We can express the purpose of creation on two levels. The ultimate purpose is, as we have seen, our pleasure. And that's what the Ramchal is describing in The Way of G-d, and the opening chapter of Path of the Just. One of the means of achieving that pleasure is for us to create more G-dliness in the world, to bring G-d into this lower physical existence. In doing so, we are (so to speak) "helping" G-d to achieve His purpose – making Him the King.
The Ramchal reserves this more subtle aspect of understanding creation for those aspiring to "saintliness." G-d obviously doesn't need us to do anything. Only a human with limited time and skills needs to hire workers to help him achieve his task. But G-d set up a reality where He is not manifest in this world, to allow us the benefit of doing the job ourselves and getting the credit for it, i.e. the ultimate pleasure of doing His will.
- Since G-d has infinite capacity, He wants to bestow unlimited goodness. What is this ultimate goodness that He bestowed?
- Why isn't it called an act of selfishness when we do something nice for someone else, knowing that we will also derive deep pleasure?
- What's the best way to define the difference between giving and taking?
- Why can't we posit that G-d created the world just because He wanted some entertainment?
- Why can't we posit that G-d created the world just to see us suffer?
- Psalms 89:3
- Rosh Hashanah 16a
- See Likutei Amarim – Tanya, Chapter 36. Based on Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 7:1.
- The difference between this articulation in Path of the Just and the one we're dealing with in The Way of G-d is that here, the Ramchal is expressing the purpose from man's perspective, rather than from G-d's.