27. Spiritual Metaphor
How the "props on the stage of life" help us connect with G-d.
In order for all this [earning of pleasure] to be possible, various different concepts of perfection and deficiency must exist. This [human] creature must then be placed in an environment with access to all the [choices], and thus have the ability to earn perfection and avoid deficiency.
For the intended purpose to be successfully achieved, means must exist through which this creature can earn perfection. This, in turn, will require that creation contain many different elements, interconnected by a multitude of relationships.
G-d's master plan centers on the creation of "a creature" (i.e. man), who has the ability to enjoy his existence and make the choices toward becoming "the master" of his own fulfillment in connecting to G-d.
If that's the case, then what's everything else doing here?! Planets? Fish? Clouds? Wine?
The Ramchal answers by saying that "for the intended purpose to be successfully achieved, means must exist through which this creature can earn perfection." Remember: everything that exists in this world requires a specific decision on G-d's part to bring it into existence and to sustain it. So if the one and only purpose of creation is humans who can get pleasure, it must be that everything else is just a means to help us accomplish that purpose. Our job is to figure out what the "props on the stage of life" mean in our personal, spiritual quest to connect with G-d.
Of course, it would be difficult for any but the most enlightened humans to understand the unique spiritual function and purpose of each individual fruit and vegetable. For us, we could start with a more general question: Why did G-d even give us food? Couldn't He have made us in a way that we don't need to eat, like the rocks?
And when we probe further into the question, we realize that of everything that G-d created – the inanimate, plants, animals, and humans – out of all of them, we seem to have the most needs. We need food, drink and sleep, like the animals. But we also need attention, love, support, a sense of accomplishment, and much more. So if we humans are the final purpose of creation, why are we the most needy and dependent? Why are we the ones that rely on the protection and support of our parents well past the age of infancy? Most animals can make it on their own after a few months, and don't even have the instinct of relating to "parents" once they're self-sufficient.
The logical answer is that each of these "props" (food, parents, etc.) is simply a variable of "perfection and deficiency" to help me connect to G-d. How so? Food, for example, raises an awareness that we have a certain dependency, vulnerability. For me to be physically satisfied requires constant maintenance – i.e. eating every few hours. Now let's draw the parallel: The Torah states: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by all that proceeds from the mouth of G-d" (Deut. 8:3). In other words, just like I need constant physical maintenance to grow and stay happy and healthy, I also need constant spiritual maintenance – to grow spiritually, and to be spiritually healthy and satisfied.1 Everything in the physical world is a metaphor, a symbol, for a corresponding spiritual need and function.
Let's look at the example of parents. As children, we acquire a foundation for life based on the idea that:
- I was created
- by someone who loves me and wants my happiness
- who knows more about life than I do, and
- with whom I can learn to build a trusting and loving relationship.
As we can now imagine, that serves as a tremendous life lesson, so that when we mature and realize the existence of G-d, we'll come to the same conclusion: G-d created me, loves me, knows all about life, and I should trust and build a relationship with Him!
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, in his collection of essays, Michtav M'Eliyahu, asks the following question: If everything in the world is just for us humans, so then why make the universe so vast? We're just a tiny speck in the universe: Planet Earth, compared to the size of the solar system, is like one green pea in a football stadium. And if our entire solar system (the sun and nine planets) was a cup of coffee, then relatively speaking, the Milky Way galaxy is like the size of North America! And our Milky Way galaxy is one out of hundreds of billions of galaxies! The universe is so large, that without using this 3-step analogy, it would be impossible to fathom.
So Rabbi Dessler asks: If it's all for us, why bother making it so huge? Of course, all of it costs G-d nothing, and takes no effort to create and continuously sustain. But if we'll never ever be able to even see 99 percent of it, much less visit it or make use of it, why bother?
He answers: When a scientist looks out and sees how unimaginably vast it all is, it should fill him with a sense of awe. And when he realizes that it all comes from G-d, it will give him a taste of G-d's unfathomable, infinite greatness. And that's awesome.
But then again, asks Rabbi Dessler, most scientists who appreciate the great vastness of the universe, never actually relate it all back to G-d. So it seems like the whole set-up doesn't really work!
On this point, Rabbi Dessler gives a stunning observation: Even if only one person, somewhere in the course of human history, looks up and says, "Wow, G-d" – it's worth it for G-d to do all that! That idea itself is awe-inspiring, and drives home the great value that G-d places on the spiritual growth of each and every one of us.
- If the whole purpose of creation is man being able to get the pleasure of connecting to G-d, then why does creation contain "great multitudes of different elements... in varying relationships to one another"? In other words, why create a world with food, animals, relationships, money, clothing, etc.?
- The Ramchal is asking us to see all the elements of this world as tools, to be used in our connection to G-d. In what way is the weather a tool?
- In what way are eyes a tool?
- The thrice-daily prayers are said to correspond to the thrice-daily meals. See Torat HaMincha by Rabbi Yaakov Ben Rebbeinu Chananel (Parshat Yitro, Drasha 24).