If God loves us, why does He make life so difficult? (Shabbos 68)

At the End of Days, God will reveal Satan to everyone.  To the righteous, he will appear as a massive mountain.  To the wicked, he will look like a tiny thread of hair.  The righteous will look at the mountain before them and wonder how they were ever able to overcome the temptations of the inclination.  At the same time, the wicked will gaze upon the tiny thread and wonder why they were unable to overcome such a meaningless foe.

מַתְנִי׳ כְּלָל גָּדוֹל אָמְרוּ בְּשַׁבָּת: כׇּל הַשּׁוֹכֵחַ עִיקַּר שַׁבָּת, וְעָשָׂה מְלָאכוֹת הַרְבֵּה בְּשַׁבָּתוֹת הַרְבֵּה — אֵינוֹ חַיָּיב אֶלָּא חַטָּאת אַחַת.
גְּמָ׳ מַאי טַעְמָא תְּנָא ״כְּלָל גָּדוֹל״? אִילֵּימָא מִשּׁוּם דְּקָבָעֵי לְמִיתְנֵי: ״עוֹד כְּלָל אַחֵר אָמְרוּ״, תְּנָא ״כְּלָל גָּדוֹל״

MISHNA: They stated a great principle with regard to the laws of Shabbat: One who forgets the essence of Shabbat, and performed numerous prohibited labors on multiple Shabbatot, is liable to bring only one sin-offering. GEMARA: Why did the mishna teach the phrase: A great principle? If you say, it is because he wants to teach an additional other principle, therefore, he taught that this one is a great principle.

The Gemara here teaches that whenever we refer to something as ‘great’, it denotes the existence of something else, that is not as great.  If this is the ‘great’ principle of Shabbos, then what is the ‘small’ principle of Shabbos? Put differently, you can only call something big or great relative to a smaller thing.  Based on this idea, the Divrei Yoel (Hosh”R) asks what we mean when we refer to God as great.  After all, there is nothing else besides Him!

He explains that, from God’s perspective, every mitzvah is tiny.  As we recite in our daily morning prayers, “You are (the same) He from before the world was created, You are (the same) He since the world was created.” Nothing changed for God.  When we perform mitzvos, He remains unchanged.  Moreover, even from our perspective, when God has given us a mitzvah to perform, He makes it simple for us to perform, removing all barriers and impediments to our successful fulfilment of His commandment.

Nevertheless, says the Divrei Yoel, upon our successful performance of His instructions, He rewards us in an abundant fashion, far greater than the reward we deserve for our efforts.  All we must do is make the relatively small effort, and He will magnify our accomplishments. That’s why the power of the Satan will appear as a mountain to the righteous at the End of Days.  Doing a mitzvah requires very little effort relative to the great reward one will receive.

If mitzvos are minor for God, why does He insist on their fulfilment?  Not because He needs them, but because we need them.  Every mitzvah is an opportunity to connect with the Divine.  And so, in the words of Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya, “The Holy One blessed be He wanted to give merit to Israel.  Therefore, He multiplied [the opportunities] for them [to engage in] Torah and mitzvos.”  Our Father in Heaven desires us to have an abundance of merit and blessing.  And so He has provided us with unlimited opportunities to fulfil His word and gain reward.

But if He wants to shower His blessing upon us, why must He make it so difficult for us?  Why doesn’t He simply give us all our hearts’ desires?  Let Him transport us to a tropical island and offer us Piña coladas to sip on all day, as we lie back and enjoy the ocean breeze?

The answer is self-evident.  If that were our sole occupation in life, we would quickly grow bored. We’re not beasts of the field.  As human beings, we need meaning and fulfilment in our lives.  You can never truly appreciate something when you have expended no effort to achieve it.  Take, for example, fresh air.  It’s an incredible blessing.  But most of us pay little attention to its existence. Imagine you had to work to earn it.  Doing so would make you appreciate what a blessing it is.

Likewise, with every blessing in our lives.  When you don’t have to work for something, you can never truly appreciate it.  When was the last time your children thanked you for providing them with clean drinking water?  And yet, there are parts of the world where water is a scarce resource and people are much more considered in how they use it.  And so on and so forth.  The child who has everything given to them is unable to appreciate the value of anything.  Something is only as valuable as the effort we have expended to attain it.

And that’s why Hashem gave us mitzvos to perform.  He could have given us everything on a silver platter.  But it would have had no value whatsoever.  Because free things have zero value.  The more effort we invest in a mitzvah, the greater our appreciation of whatever follows.

Every mitzvah is an opportunity to connect with Heaven’s bounty.  Hashem wants you to have an abundance of reward.  That’s why He’s given you so many opportunities to work and be rewarded for your work.  May all your efforts be rewarded in this world and for all eternity!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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