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21. Emulating G-d

March 5, 2014 | by Rabbi Yaakov Aaronson

A shift in attitude can build a deep relationship with G-d.

Why are We Here?1:2:1 (Part 5)
Section 1: Fundamentals of Existence
Chapter 2: Purpose of Creation
Point 1

Therefore, even though created things cannot emulate G-d's perfection in their own right, the fact that they can be attached to Him allows them to partake of it, since they can be considered part of G-d's perfection as a result of their association with it. They can thus derive pleasure from that true good to the greatest degree possible for them.

The purpose of all that was created was therefore to bring into existence a creature who could derive pleasure from G-d's own good, in a way that would be possible for it.

The Ramchal is addressing our question: "How can a human being attain that deepest pleasure of being connected to (i.e. having a relationship with) G-d?"

He answers it by talking about "emulating G-d's perfection." The Ramchal is alluding to an underlying principle that really governs all relationships – emulation. When we look at what makes a relationship stable and thriving, it's the things we have in common. If the only thing I have in common with someone is that we both once visited Fiji, it's not much of a basis for a strong relationship. If we also both grew up in Australia, have similar political beliefs and the same sense of humor, there's more potential for a stronger relationship. If we've both had to cope with similar tragedies in life, and have similar religious convictions, then even more so. The more areas of similarity, the greater the potential for a relationship with depth.

Of course, we also know that "opposites attract." We may specifically gravitate to people who are different from ourselves. That's usually a need to find a sense of wholeness in areas where we want to grow. For example, an introvert who lacks confidence might be attracted to a very sanguine personality; they both place value on self-confidence. So while in one sense opposites attract, we can't imagine a warm and generous person looking for a spouse who's cold and miserly!

In our case of developing a relationship with G-d, we need to see in what ways we can emulate G-d, i.e. become more G-d-like. That's the tool to create a more powerful relationship.

Our difficulty, however, as we've already noted on many occasions, is that there's nothing we can really say about G-d's qualities. G-d is an indivisible, unimaginable oneness. On the other hand, we began Chapter 2 by pointing out one thing we can definitively say about G-d's act of creation: G-d is a giver. There's no other way to explain the raison d'etre of creation, other than to see it as a purely selfless act of giving – from G-d to us.

So that's our answer. We can emulate G-d by being givers. The more we channel the direction of our lives, our decisions, and our relationships to focus on giving, the more we will become G-d-like. This builds a greater relationship with G-d – the greatest of all pleasures.

It sounds complicated, but we see it all the time around us. What gives us a deeper pleasure – receiving a nice gift or giving a nice gift? Being taken care of, or taking care of others? Of course, both giving and taking are necessary in a balanced life, and when we have needs we should articulate them and not be ashamed to let others help us. But the deeper pleasures come when we act as givers.

If we examine this point psychologically, it seems to contradict the secular understanding of man as an animal. Sure, it's easy to understand how we've developed skills in taking – eating, sleeping, vacations. And simple biology explains why it gives us pleasure – the food tickles our taste buds in just the right way, etc.

What's harder to understand, from a strictly biological standpoint, is our drive to give. What is the evolutionary advantage of having an inner drive to help an old lady cross the street? Some would suggest that one day I may need her help. Or because if I create a greater sense of goodness in my society, I'll ultimately benefit from it. Okay, then how do we explain the soldier willing to jump onto a grenade to save his fellow soldiers? He knows he's going to die in the process! The only explanation is that we have a drive within us, deeper than the drive for life itself, which is a drive to give. Biologically, it's irrational; spiritually, it makes perfect sense.

G-d endowed us with two different drives, to be a giver and to be a taker. Each has its own cost and its own consequent pleasure. And ultimately, even though giving costs more (i.e. takes more effort), the deeper pleasure derives from the fact that we are emulating G-d and (perhaps even unconsciously) developing a relationship with Him.

Deeper Insights

Living as a Giver

Life seems to be a balancing act between wanting to be a giver and also wanting to be a taker. And it seems that there's always going to be a conflict. On one hand, even when I feel like giving, I want to be recognized for it (i.e. taking), and want my relationships to be "fair" through reciprocation (i.e. taking). On the other hand, when I feel like taking, I know that the pleasure is not as long-lived and has no spiritual element of growth. So I'm stuck either way!

If the goal of life is to be a giver, why do we always have to make trade-offs? Why can't we exercise our purpose in life constantly? The answer is, we can.

The Maggid of Dubno, an 18th century rabbi, explains the idea with a parable:

A man living in a small village realizes that people in the town are suffering. There's no local bakery, and the villagers have to travel by horse and carriage, sometimes through difficult weather, to reach the nearest bakery 20 miles away. So he sees a tremendous business opportunity and pools his savings together to open a local bakery. His goal, ostensibly, is profit. So will he have two-for-one sales, good customer service, and a clean store? Of course. But not because he's interested in his customers' happiness. He's just a smart businessman trying to create loyal customers.

Imagine, says the Maggid of Dubno, if the situation had been entirely reversed. When the villager first notices that people have to travel far to get bread, he sees a tremendous opportunity to help them. So he pools his savings and opens a local bakery. His goal is to express the kindness of giving. Will he charge for his products? Of course. But not because he's after people's money. He wants the profits to keep the bakery – the "kindness shop" – going.

Being a giver doesn't mean losing out on enjoying life. It means that if I see my livelihood and my relationships as opportunities to give, from the outside things may appear very much the same. But inside I am developing an attitude that allows me to grow, not only as a person, but also in my spiritual connection to G-d.

Questions to Think About

  • Why is the concept of emulation so central to relationships? In what ways can you see it in your own relationships?
  • Doesn't emulation in relationships contradict the idea that "opposites attract"?
  • How can we emulate G-d, if G-d has no qualities?
  • What does emulating G-d accomplish?
  • If we imagine ourselves as a composite of body and soul, in what sense could we see that the nature of the body is to take, and the nature of the soul is to give? (Consider the example of the soldier willing to die for his friends.)


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