Introduction to Edited Transcription:
Rabbi Kessin: Last week, I spoke about free will, what it is, what are its conditions. Now, I want to put that in a particular context; otherwise, it makes less sense.
The Existential Dilemma
Why has G-d created a situation requiring that mankind, and particularly Jews, make decisions to fulfill tasks thrust between righteousness or sinfulness? Why did He create free will insisting mankind decide which way to go and, after doing so, merit either reward or punishment/rehabilitation? Why should mankind earn his Future World? Why have this scenario at all?
Why doesn’t G-d just create a Future World, create utopia, and place us there? I’m sure everybody’s thought about that. If G-d creates a situation in which you have to earn your Future World, there’s always a risk that you may not earn it or you may earn much less. So, why must we go through this procedure?
The answer is really very comforting. Imagine the following scenario: You’re asleep and G-d appears to you in a prophetic dream—G-d doesn’t appear in dreams although He does appear to you in prophecy in a dream state—and He says, “I like what you’re doing; therefore, I will grant you any wish. What would you like? Think carefully; it’s a one-shot opportunity.” What would people want? It’s like when He appeared to King Solomon and offered to grant him either wisdom or wealth. King Solomon opted for wisdom and, in doing so, got everything because that was very smart of him; with wisdom, he secured wealth.
Participant: I want ten more wishes.
Rabbi: No. That’s the only thing you can’t wish. Yeah, I know it’s cute.
Participant: I’m disqualified.
Rabbi: You’ve been disqualified. You get one wish. Don’t try to confuse me; I’m not G-d. It’s an interesting scenario to contemplate.
Participant: Straight to the Future World.
Rabbi: Okay. You want to be in olam ha’ba, the Future World. Not a bad wish, right? What an opportunity! You guys have nothing else to wish for–a billion dollars? Marry off all your kids? Live in Lakewood? Vacation in Switzerland or Hawaii?
Participant: …an apartment beside the Kotel in Jerusalem.
Rabbi: I see you guys are too stunned by this.
I’ll tell you what I would wish for. I want to be G-d. Incredible, right? What is G-d? G-d is independent of everything, right? Limitless–no limits to what He can do, no dependency at all. He can do whatever He wants. The “Ein Sof”– without finitude, literally. Like it says in the Torah portion Ha’azinu: “I kill. I give life. I cure. From My hand there is no rescuer.” So, I would say to G-d, “I would love to be just like You because then I could do whatever I want.”
But would G-d do that? He said there’s no limit to what I can ask for. Would he actually enable me to be a G-d?
Participant: That’s what Adam did and you see how that turned out. He wanted to be like G-d.
Rabbi: It turned out badly because G-d never offered to grant his wish saying, “I’ll make you G-d.” There’s nothing wrong with the expectation if He’s asking me first, right? You can’t compare it to Adam.
Participant: But that’s probably what Adam wanted.
Rabbi: You know what G-d answers? “I’ll do it. I’ll make you a G-d.” Why? Because G-d wants to bestow upon mankind what we call ha’tov ha’sheleima – the greatest good there can be and, with G-d, that’s infinite. So, the next question is: What’s the greatest good that G-d can give? The answer is: Replicate G-d. That’s the greatest good, to make me like Him, devoid of dependencies, limitations, deficiencies. Wow! And G-d said He’ll do it. Therein lies the problem.
G-d wants to give you ha’tov ha’sheleima, but there’s a problem because we are created entities. We are not G-d; we are only created in the image of G-d. How can a created entity, whose existence totally depends on receiving its existence from outside of itself, feel like a G-d? He can’t. Your very existence indicates to you that you’re not a G-d because you need to receive your existence from outside of yourself. We are completely dependent on G-d and, therefore, limited. Our existence depends upon how much the source gives us, and we are certainly defective.
Make Us G-d?
He creates what’s called an individual entity, a “neshama”—Divine soul, but it too is a created entity, albeit in the image of G-d and a “chelek elokai m’ma’al”—a piece of the Almighty above, as the “chazal”—sages refer to it. In other words, if you look at the Divine Presence, the Shekinah, it’s like a coin—heads and tails. On one side of the coin is the Divine Presence and, on the other side, is the neshama, the Divine soul. We are really part of the living G-d. We don’t understand how that is but, in some sense, we are, literally, Divine.. Maybe some people do realize it and that’s why they’re megalomaniacs. Despite this divinity, we are still “nivrah”— created entities and, as such, we are completely dependent on another source for our existence. That’s what it means to be G-d; I can do whatever I want. I don’t need an external source.
What Does the Divine Soul “Feel”?
As a created entity, what does the neshama feel? In one regard, the neshama feels that it is G-d and, on the other side, it recognizes its complete inadequacy. How does one resolve that? This is what our sages call “nahama d’ksufa,” –Bread of Shame.
Bread of Shame, the Conceptual Contradiction
Let’s assume Bread of Shame is an emotion. What is shame? It’s an interesting emotion and a very devastating one. How do we understand shame? It is what a person experiences when he comes to the realization that he’s nobody, deficient, inferior.
There are many ways to create shame. Let’s assume a guy’s about to take a shower and, enroute to the shower stall, he glimpses himself in a mirror: I can’t believe what I’m looking at, which is probably what many people think when they look at themselves in the mirror. This is me! You realize the inadequacy, the deficiency of the human body. He has a sense of his vulnerability. His inferiority is exposed to himself; that’s shame.
Let’s assume a worse scenario: A five-year-old child has a brutal father. The kid does something wrong, something to displease the father who calls him an idiot. The child will have a terrible case of inferiority and feel ashamed because he believes his father. If this happens on a constant basis, this child will feel incredible shame growing up. In many ways, shame is one of the most devastating feelings, worse than insecurity or inadequacy because it’s a statement about your inferiority, your self-worth and self-esteem. We all have felt ashamed in different ways at some point. If a guy is trying to make a living and he’s not making it, he’s ashamed. He’s not ashamed in the eyes of others necessarily but, to himself, if he can’t be successful in bringing home money, he thinks: I should be ashamed of myself. How often might we reprimand someone saying, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” Ostensibly, this means: You’re a lowlife. You should experience what it means to be a nobody, because you just did an act of “nobodiness,” you see. Shame is a terrible emotion. Shame is at the foundation, at the root, of mental health or the lack of it.
Let’s go back to the subject of spirituality. You have a neshama that is Divine because it’s part of the living G-d, without going into how that’s possible. If G-d is an “ein od milvado” –-a– Being beside which there is nothing else (without going into that mystery) then what is the natural and consistent condition of the created Divine soul?
The snake in the Garden said to Adam, “You can be like G-d.” Part of Adam felt like G-d except he wasn’t G-d all the way. Therefore, the soul feels as if it were Divine but, at the same time, its inclination is pervious to the weakness that comes from its innate sense of inadequacy. It receives everything from G-d. It’s a taker. G-d is a giver. That’s the power of a G-d to give whenever He wants, without conditions if He so chooses. A taker is not G-d because the very act of taking is an indication that he’s deficient. He’s certainly not Divine. So, look at the neshama’s dilemma; it’s partially Divine and, yet, a taker. That’s nehama d’kisufa. It’s less an emotion than a conceptual contradiction. How can I feel like G-d being part of Him, yet be a taker because I can’t sustain myself at all in the existential sense? How does G-d resolve this?
Enter free will. G-d says, “I need you to be able to give. I need to create within you the power to do something only G-d can do: to be a true cause. “Free will” means that you are the true cause of your decisions, perhaps too, your acts; such is Divinity. If you choose to be righteous, if that’s what you cause because you decide to be righteous, you will have replicated an act of G-d. The contradiction is resolved: Even though righteousness will give me access to the Future World where I’m still a taker because I don’t exist independent of G-d and G-d still must provide everything, I created the opportunity to take eternally. I caused it; I earned it. At least I did that. If I didn’t cause it–which is a Divine act — I wouldn’t be taking in the Future World either. G-d removes that shame of not being an agent and gives us, in some sense, the prompting to be a giver and, ironically, you gave that to yourself by replication of G-d’s act of exerting free will.
So, even though we’re takers for eternity, we earned it. G-d removed the flaw of being a complete taker enabling us to cause something for ourselves. We become a true cause, a power only G-d can bestow but, in some way, which is unknown, He has given that capacity to the neshama of each individual. The Divine soul can say to itself in the Future World: It is true that I’m a taker; I can’t create olam ha’ba, but I’m the one responsible for Divine acts, my good choices that enabled me to earn this.
In addition, were I to be given access to eternal bliss in the Future World for free—not having caused it—how could I ever experience it fully? My shame would impede that experience. The experience of ultimate goodness could not be accessible to me had I not earned it.
The Purpose of Olam ha’Ze—this world
That’s why this physical world is critical; it’s where you earn your Future World to experience infinite goodness. Were it not for this set-up, so to speak, there would be no way to resolve the dilemma of the Divine soul. It’s a spiritual agony for you to feel one thing and its antitheses simultaneously. That perpetual contradiction would be agonizing.
It’s puzzling for people, this problem as to why G-d created shame in the first place, creates this system of reward and punishment. Just give me olam ha’ba without the struggle. Why the struggle? —is a perpetual question.
You can’t get something for free, and this is the concept of “din” – judgment. Why has G-d created the world through judgment/justice that, if you do sin A, you get consequence “opposite A”? It’s actually the third law of motion, as Newton said. For every action, there is an equal, and opposite, reaction. You get exactly what you gave, no more and no less. But G-d does help; He created systems to help you. But, in the end, every person will get what he deserves.
In the case of a tzaddik— thoroughly righteous individual, G-d is exacting, as stringent as a chut ha’sa’ara—a hairbreadth’s thread. A tzaddik wants nothing for free. Were he to get anything for free—in other words, get something he didn’t cause—that’s nahama d’kisufa. No good. The Divine aspect of his self rejects that. He doesn’t even want G-d to assist him because, in a way, that is a gift. A tzaddik has control of his emotions and is disciplined in doing mitzvahs. Everything I have, I want to earn, is his mindset. Don’t give me a shred and don’t do me any favors. I want to earn everything that I get in the Future World.
We, of course, are not at that level so G-d had to mix compassion with justice. Compassion and mercy are nothing more than the suspension of judgment or justice. We need that to survive. That’s what it means when it is said that G-d created the world through justice.
This entire life experience is predicated on one concept: nahama d’kisufa and its resolution. If there were no such thing as this existential conflict, we wouldn’t have this physical existence where G-d conceals Himself and we have to earn our way. If we could tolerate receiving, taking, what are we doing here? Because G-d wants to make us Divine in order to give us the ultimate experience of His goodness, He couldn’t do otherwise.
I’m trying to provide the most basic understanding of why this existence is the way it is, fraught with so many dangers, laden with difficult choices between being righteous versus acting in accordance with His edicts. Like I say, G-d instituted devices that assist us-–particularly that of suffering—to clean us up.
If you’re cleaned up, then you deserve what you’ll get because of what you decided to do: observe His commandments, repent, or endure what was meted out to you—suffering. All of it satisfies the demands of justice–no existential crisis, no shame. That’s why we must deserve every iota of ecstasy we’ll get in the Future World; there are simply different ways G-d provides to get us there.
What happens if a person doesn’t merit the Future World because he’s done so much evil? Are some people really destroyed, totally annihilated and non-existent? Why can’t G-d clean them up by giving them terrible amounts of suffering? What happens if a neshama could walk up to G-d and say, “I’m okay; I don’t mind being embarrassed or ashamed. Just give me the goodies; I can accept the shame.” What’s G-d going to say to that? The guy’s saying, “Hey, I don’t mind being on welfare for my entire life.” You get a check in the mail. (I wouldn’t say it was social security—actually there’s no money in social security anymore; the government robbed the whole bank. In certain neighborhoods, everybody’s on welfare; they don’t seem to be disturbed at all). So a guy theoretically could say to G-d, “I’m okay with this. Who cares if I earned it or not?” That’s not going to work. Maybe there are people who can’t ever earn olam ha’ba because the extent of their sinfulness is vast, and maybe G-d says, “Okay, you can be in olam ha’ba, but you’ll be wracked and torn by shame.
By the way, there are beings that exist eternally and they suffer from nahama d’kisufa. Know who they are? The angels. They are high-ranking beings who suffer from nahama d’kisufa. The RaMChal says that they have shame because they are receivers all the time, yet they exist eternally.
For whatever reason, G-d decided to create a species of souls that is not angelic. Unlike us, there’s no death for an angel. Perhaps, due to the small amount of Divinity that they are invested with, since it’s lacking and not perceptible by them, their shame is minimal, a drop, because they don’t have a Divine sense of self.
Any questions? Don’t be ashamed.
Participant: Is the neshama Divine or is it spiritual?
Rabbi: It’s Divine. Well, let’s put it this way: It’s not G-d, but it’s the greatest form of spirituality. The shekhina is Divine so the neshama is at the level of the shekhina in its divinity.
Participant: You’re saying it’s a viable solution that a person could say at the end of time….
Rabbi: I’m bringing it up as an interesting scenario. I’ve never known of such a scenario, but in “Pirkei Avos” (Ethics of Our Fathers) it says, “Against your will you are born, you live, and you die.” What does that tell you? You don’t make the rules; G-d does. Why would anybody protest his own existence? Probably the neshama protested: What do I need this for? Just give me my Future World without having to work for it!
We know that G-d said, “I’m sorry. Against your will you are born.” That’s G-d’s answer to your Divine soul that cries out: Please, give me olam ha’ba now! I don’t want this material world. Think about it; why were you born against your will? The part of you that has the Divine spark would say, “I don’t want to go down there. Just give me my delight!” But the contract says, the rules are, you’ve got to come down, be righteous on your own merit, and cause your eternal delight. In that, you did a Divine act.
Participant: You’ve said that a person could petition G-d as an ein sof–infinite Being, beyond all laws.
Rabbi: Yes. If He wanted to do it, he could have done it, but He doesn’t want to. That’s when a person finds out that G-d doesn’t want to do it. Clearly, experiencing the Future World without any feelings of inferiority must be awesome. If G-d had to do what He’s done, it must have been because, doing otherwise, giving it for free, would have been a terrible obstruction to the reward. If G-d sends us down to this world—which is risky—where you might never choose righteousness, is it better that you get the Future World on those terms than not get it at all? That’s His decision. We don’t know because we’ve never experienced this kind of shame vs. not having experienced it. But, I’m sure that were G-d to show us the difference, we’d say, “Forget it; I’m coming down.” I’m sure G-d is smarter that all of us.
Participant: Will there be “regret” in the Future World?
Rabbi: No. Everything is cleared up. There cannot be any reason to regret because that feeling would have killed you; you would have eternal grief. What kind of Future World delight is that? There won’t be any jealousy because that would torture you for eternity. The greatest agony of all is to be jealous of the next guy for eternity. Jealousy and no regret. Those are removed.
Participant: We have nahama d’kisufa to get rid of the shame, but what do we have for regret and jealousy?
Rabbi: I don’t know. You have to ask G-d about that. But I’m sure He’s capable of removing that.
Participant: But isn’t there “yisuros rishonim” that says you’ll be burned by your neighbor’s canopy?
Rabbi: That’s only initially, probably, not for eternity. Imagine thinking that way for eternity. That is called “olam gehenom” —eternal hell. It’s not an olam ha’ba if that’s what you feel eternally. It’s the worst gehenom of all. There’s no equality in olam ha’ba because everybody arrives in the Future World at different levels based on their spiritual accomplishments. Why would G-d do that, cause the Divine soul to say, “Excuse me, annihilate me! I can’t tolerate olam ha’ba this way.
Participant: How does this suffering help to get rid of the Bread of Shame?
Rabbi: Suffering is compensation for sin, an undoing of a sin. When you sin, you enjoyed. Now you have to suffer; it’s like the absence. Your suffering compensates for the pleasure you derived from the sin, so it removes the fact that you had pleasure sinning. Suffering is a “kaporah”—atonement and it removes the sin. It’s like it never happened. So let’s look forward to a Future World that you will own. Like they say, “You own it.”