Introduction to the Purpose of Man in this World

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Introduction to the Purpose of Man in the World
The Morasha syllabus features a series of classes addressing the purpose of man in the world. These shiurim address fundamental principles of Jewish philosophy including the relationship of the body and the soul, free will, the centrality of chesed (loving kindness), hashgachah pratit (Divine providence) and striving to emulate God. However, these principles revolve around even more basic issues that need to be explored first: What is the purpose of existence? Is there a purpose of man in this world, and if so, what is it? Why did God place us in a physical, material world? This shiur provides an approach to these questions which then serves as the underpinning for subsequent classes on fundamental Jewish principles.
The evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins (in River out of Eden) has the following to say about purpose:
The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
Judaism teaches that purpose is inherent to the world, and inherent to human existence. As the US National Academy of Sciences asserts (Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science), there is little room for science in this discussion: "Whether there is a purpose to the universe or a purpose for human existence are not questions for science." In stark contrast to Dawkins, this class presents the Jewish outlook on purpose, and will address the following questions:

  • Why did God create the world? Why are we here?

  • Was the world created for God's sake, or for ours?

  • What are the “important things in life?”

  • Do I have an individual mission in life?

Class Outline:

Introduction: In Only Nine Million Years We’ll Reach Kepler-22B
Section I: Why Did God Create the World?

Part A. God Created the World for Our Good

Part B. Free Will to Earn Perfection
Section II: The Nature of This World

Part A. A Vestibule to the World to Come

Part B. Everything is a Test
Section III: The Goal of Man

Part A. Torah and Mitzvot

Part B. Character Development

Part C. Partnering with God

Part D. What Is My Mission?
Appendix. The World was Created for the Glory of God

Introduction. In Only Nine Million Years We’ll Reach Kepler-22B
January 30, 2011

In a building at NASA’s Ames Research Center here, computers are sifting and resifting the light from 156,000 stars, seeking to find in the flickering of distant suns the first hints that humanity is not alone in the universe. The stars are being monitored by a $600 million satellite observatory named Kepler, whose job is to conduct a kind of Gallup poll of worlds in the cosmos. On Wednesday, Kepler’s astronomers are scheduled to unveil a closely kept list of 400 stars that are their brightest and best bets so far for harboring planets, some of which could turn out to be the smallest and most Earth-like worlds discovered out there to date. They represent the first glimpse of riches to come in a quest that is as old as the imagination and as new as the iPad.
Over the next two or three years, as Kepler continues to stare and sift, astronomers say, it will be able to detect planets in the “Goldilocks” zones, where it is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water. “What we want is to find life,” said Geoffrey Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who is part of the Kepler team.

Right now, humans cannot even summon the money or political will to get back to the moon, let alone set sail for another star. It would take 300,000 years for Voyager 1, now on the way out of the solar system at 39,000 miles per hour, to travel the 20 light-years, or 120 trillion miles, to Gliese 581, one of the nearest planetary systems; Kepler’s planets are from 500 to 3,000 light-years away.
This is more than just an intellectual exercise, scientists say. Traditional religious images of ourselves as God’s creatures, or even of God, could be in for a rough time if we ever discover pond scum living by completely alien chemical rules on some moon or planet, let alone the Borg — the alien race ruled by a collective mind on “Star Trek” — inhabiting some distant realm…
December 11, 2011

NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the "habitable zone," the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets. 

The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. Scientists don't yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets. Kepler-22b is located 600 light-years away. (Dennis Overbye, Gazing Afar for Other Earths, and Other Beings,, January 30, 2011,, Dec 6, 2011)

That “one day” may seem such a long way off and be so irrelevant, but many people lead their lives on the assumption that “if we ever discover some other form of life” then life is certainly a random phenomenon. In a recent critically acclaimed Hollywood film that wrestles with whether or not our life has meaning, the following conclusion is drawn by the lead character in response to why he invests so much time in studying exotic flowers: “Oh, mystery, beauty, unknowability, I suppose. Besides, I think the real reason is that life has no meaning. I mean, no obvious meaning. You wake up, you go to work, you do stuff. I think everybody's always looking for something a little unusual that can preoccupy them and help pass the time.''
Can you imagine living your life, even investing many years in a project, then coming to the realization that it had no purpose?
There was a man who had been sentenced to 25 years of hard labor. His wrists were shackled to the handle of a huge wheel that was set in the wall. He had to turn this massive wheel all his waking hours. He would often wonder what it was that he was doing. Perhaps he was grinding grain into flour or bringing up subterranean water to irrigate fields.

After the long sentence was completed and the shackles were removed, he ran to the other side of the wall. Upon seeing that the wheel was not attached to anything, he collapsed. Twenty-five years of backbreaking work, all for nothing! He was able to survive 25 years of bone-crushing labor, but the feeling that it was futile, all for naught, was more than he could bear. (Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, Simchah: It’s Not Just Happiness, Artscroll/Mesorah Publications)
Judaism, however, teaches that our existence is not pointless, but profoundly meaningful. The key observation of the film’s protagonist is, “there is no obvious meaning.” Since the world was created by God, then He had a purpose in doing so. To some, the world’s purpose is readily apparent. To others it may not be clear; yet it is up to us to make a sincere effort to discover whether we are placed in this world with a purpose (see Morasha classes on Developing and Strengthening Belief in God and Evidence for Torah MiSinai).
As soon as you start studying Torah, right from the first verse: “In the beginning the Almighty created,” you become aware that there is a Creator and Ruler of the universe. This first awareness already makes a major change in you for the rest of your life. You realize that there is a reason for everything. The world has meaning and purpose (Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, Daat Torah: Bereishit, p. 3).
It’s also not beyond God’s skills to create life on other planets – so whether or not there are or aren’t other life forms in the universe doesn’t change our modus operandi. Consequently, what really matters to each of us is living fully in the here and now:
You are on a mission from your Creator. You are unique. Only you are you, now and always. The situations and occurrences throughout your life are Divinely orchestrated to elevate you and your character. The Torah verse states [Devarim/Deuteronomy 10:12], “And now Israel, what does God ask from you?” Please note the important word, “Now”(Life is Now, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, ArtScroll Publications, p. 31).
If life does have meaning, and hence, value, how can we ascertain what that meaning is? This is a question that has gripped humanity throughout the ages. We will now explore the Jewish vision of what brings meaning to this world, to Kepler-22B and beyond!
Section I: Why Did God Create the World?
Without meaning in life, even if you accomplish very much, have health and wealth, fame and fortune, there is a strong feeling that something is missing. It is. Without meaning there is no real enjoyment or satisfaction. Yes, a person can have moments of excitement, joy, and even ecstasy. But they are short-lived. When the high feelings settle down, there is emptiness. Nothing seems to really matter. But as soon as you internalize the awareness that there is a Creator of the universe, you see plan and purpose. There is a drive for spiritual growth. Those who lack this realization see only the external actions and behaviors of those who live with the reality of the Almighty. They are unaware of the rich inner life of such a person. The true believer in the Creator is a fortunate person. He is the only one on the planet one should envy. He sees something larger than life in every flower and tree and in every blade of grass. He sees the design of the Creator in every living creature. He sees something special in every human being. His life, regardless of how it unfolds, is full of purpose and meaning. While he appreciates this world as a gift of the Creator, he looks forward to an eternity of existence. This is the profound message of the first verse of the Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Growth Through Torah, p. 18).
Part A. God Created the World for Our Good
An axiomatic belief about God is that God is perfect. As the Perfect Being, the question arises: why should He create a world? Doesn't the creation of the world indicate the imperfection of the Creator, who “needed” to create a world?
The answer given by Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) is that the world was created not for the sake of God, but for the benefit of man.
1. Ramchal, Derech Hashem (The Way of God) 1:2:1 – The purpose of creation.

The purpose of creation was for God to bestow of His good upon others.

הנה, התכלית בבריאה היה להיטיב מטובו יתברך שמו לזולתו.

Because God is good, by definition, He wishes to do good for others.

2. Ramchal, Daat Tevunot (The Knowing Heart), Ch. 18, p. 4 – Doing good to others is the nature of good.

It is the nature of one who is good to bestow good to others.

מחוק הטוב הוא להיטיב.

In order to bestow His good upon others, God created man and placed him in a world in which he would be able to earn reward.

3. Ramchal, Mesillat Yesharim (The Path of the Just), Ch. 1 – The purpose of life.

Our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught us that man was created only to delight in God and bask in the glow of His Presence, which is the truest pleasure and greatest delight that could possibly exist. The true place of this delight is in the World to Come, because it was created in preparation for this. But the way to reach this destination is through this world. That is what our Sages of Blessed Memory have taught us (Avot/ The Ethics of the Fathers 4:16): “This world is like a vestibule before the World to Come.”
The means that prepare a person for this goal are the mitzvot that the Almighty has commanded us. The place where these mitzvot are performed is only in This World. Therefore, man was placed in this world first, so that, through the means that are available to him here, he can reach the place that was prepared for him, i.e., the World to Come, where he can bask in the good that he has earned through the mitzvot. That is what our Sages, of Blessed Memory, meant when they said (Eiruvin 22a), “Today is to do them and tomorrow is to receive the reward.”

והנה מה שהורונו חכמינו זכרונם לברכה הוא, שהאדם לא נברא אלא להתענג על ה' ולהנות מזיו שכינתו שזהו התענוג האמיתי והעידון הגדול מכל העידונים שיכולים להמצא. ומקום העידון הזה באמת הוא העולם הבא, כי הוא הנברא בהכנה המצטרכת לדבר הזה. אך הדרך כדי להגיע אל מחוז חפצנו זה, הוא זה העולם. והוא מה שאמרו זכרונם לברכה: (משנה אבות ד טז): "העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור בפני העולם הבא".

והאמצעים המגיעים את האדם לתכלית הזה, הם המצוות אשר צונו עליהן האל יתברך שמו. ומקום עשיית המצוות הוא רק העולם הזה. על כן הושם האדם בזה העולם בתחלה כדי שעל ידי האמצעים האלה המזדמנים לו כאן יוכל להגיע אל המקום אשר הוכן לו, שהוא העולם הבא, לרוות שם בטוב אשר קנה לו על ידי אמצעים אלה. והוא מה שאמרו, זכרונם לברכה (ערובין כב, א): "היום לעשותם ומחר לקבל שכרם".

Based on this analysis, it emerges that the material world in which we live is merely the first of a two-stage process. God created man in order to bestow eternal reward upon him, and man was placed in this world in order to earn that eternal reward.

We will soon explore how man goes about earning reward, but first we must answer a basic question. If God’s purpose in creating the world was to bestow good upon His creations, why did He simply not create man already in the World to Come, in a position where he would already be the recipient of Divine goodness? Why was man placed in a physical world and charged with the observance of mitzvot in order to earn reward?
4. Derech Hashem 1:2:2 – The need to earn God’s goodness.

God’s wisdom, however, decreed that for such good to be perfect, the one enjoying it must be its master. He must be the one who has earned it for himself, and not someone who was just given it. This arrangement is reminiscent in part to the perfection of God Himself, at least to the degree that this is possible.

ואולם גזרה חכמתו, שלהיות הטוב שלם, ראוי שיהיה הנהנה בו בעל הטוב ההוא. פירוש - מי שיקנה הטוב בעצמו, ולא מי שיתלוה לו הטוב בדרך מקרה.

ותראה שזה נקרא קצת התדמות, בשיעור שאפשר, אל שלימותו ית'.

If goodness were to be bestowed upon us without our effort, it would not be considered true goodness. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 38a) teaches that a person prefers one portion of that which is “truly his” (referring to an entity that a person actually earns or creates) over nine portions of that which is not "truly his," i.e., a "hand-out." For the purpose of the world to be achieved, a process needed to be established whereby we earn our reward, where we actually create our reward. In that way the perfection that we eventually achieve is intrinsic to our being and more closely resembles God’s perfection. To be able to accomplish our own achievements, God endowed humanity with free will.

Part B. Free Will to Earn Perfection

As we saw above, God created the world in order to bestow goodness upon humanity. However, for this goodness to be in its most perfect form, it must be intrinsic to us, a product of our own efforts and actions as opposed to being handed to us on a silver platter.

As such, having free will, the ability to freely choose between good and evil, is a prerequisite for man to be able to earn his perfection. By exercising his free will properly, man is able to choose good and reject evil in accordance with God’s will.
1. Deuteronomy 30:15-19 – The choice between good and evil, life and death.

See, I set before you today life and goodness, death and evil.
For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call heaven and earth as your witnesses that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַיּוֹם אֶת הַחַיִּים וְאֶת הַטּוֹב וְאֶת הַמָּוֶת וְאֶת הָרָע:
אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו וְלִשְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחָיִיתָ וְרָבִיתָ וּבֵרַכְךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ:

וְאִם יִפְנֶה לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִשְׁמָע וְנִדַּחְתָּ וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לֵאלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַעֲבַדְתָּם: הִגַּדְתִּי לָכֶם הַיּוֹם כִּי אָבֹד תֹּאבֵדוּן לֹא תַאֲרִיכֻן יָמִים עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹבֵר אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן לָבוֹא שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ:

הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ:

Life is goodness. The choice between good and evil is presented by the Torah as a choice between life and death.

Why should a person choose evil and death over goodness and life? The answer is that evil presents itself as being good and beneficial, and a person is lured to it by what is known as his Evil Inclination.
2. Ramchal, Derech Hashem 1:3:1 – In order for man to have free choice, he was endowed with both a Good Inclination and an Evil Inclination.

We have already mentioned that man is the creation that was fashioned to cleave to God, and was placed between perfection and deficiency and given the ability to acquire perfection. However, this must be due to his own free choice… that his inclination should be equal regarding either side and not predisposed to one of them, and he should have the ability to choose, willingly and with his own intelligence, whichever he desires, as well as the ability to acquire whichever he desires. Therefore, man was created with a Good Inclination and an Evil Inclination, and he has freedom of choice to direct himself toward whichever side he desires.

כבר זכרנו היות האדם אותה הבריה הנבראת לידבק בו ית', והיא המוטלת בין השלימות והחסרונות, והיכולת בידו לקנות השלימות. ואולם צריך שיהיה זה בבחירתו ורצונו... שתהיה נטיתו שקולה לשני הצדדין ולא מוכרחת לאחד מהם, ויהיה בו כח הבחירה לבחור בדעת ובחפץ באיזה מהם שירצה, והיכולת גם כן בידו לקנות איזה מהם שירצה. על כן נברא האדם ביצ"ט ויצ"ר, והבחירה בידו להטות עצמו לצד שהוא רוצה:

Being a physical being, man is naturally pulled towards pursuit of physical pleasure, and neglect of spiritual duties. His free will is expressed in his ability to pull himself back from his tendency to evil, and to draw the body towards the spiritual elevation of the soul. For this reason, man must be a composite being, including both a physical body and Divine soul. His role is to decide the balance of power between them.

3. Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, The Thirteen Principles of Faith, p. 26 – The Lame and the Blind

The Sages (Sanhedrin 91b) wished to clarify that it is not possible to grant reward and punishment to the body alone, or to the soul alone, for they have no free will. The soul sees the inner content of all things, but it is lame: it does not have any standing on physical soil; it is a spiritual essence, and therefore it is not pulled after the physical. By contrast, the body has physical feet, and it is firmly placed in the physical world, and drawn after the lures of the physical. Yet, it is blind: it does not grasp the inner essence of things, and it is drawn after the physical and the sensual without being aware of any inner, spiritual significance.

Therefore, it is not possible to punish the body, or to grant reward to the soul, because they do no more than follow their basic nature. Rather, reward and punishment are granted based on the interaction between the body and the soul. If the lame soul will properly direct the blind body, and lead it to do goodness, then it will receive its reward together with the body. And if, God forbid, the soul refrains from directing the body on the course of goodness – then the body and soul will together be held accountable, by means of the ruach (the essential spirit of man) that is between them.

חז"ל (סנהדרין צא, ב) רצו להבהיר כי לא יתכן לתת שכר ועונש לא לגוף לבד ולא לנשמה לבדה, כי לא שייכת בהם בחירה. הנשמה רואה את תוכן הדברים, אבל היא חיגרת: אין לה מעמד וקביעות על הקרקע הגשמית. היא אינה הולכת נעה ונמשכת אחרי החומר הגשמי, כיון שהיא רוחנית. לעומתה, הגוף יש לו רגלים הוא קבוע בעולם הגשמי ונמשך אחרי הדברים החומריים, אך מצד שני הוא סומא: אין לו שום תפיסת מהות, והוא נמשך אחרי המורגש והמוחש בלי אפשרות לצפות ולהבחין במשמעות הדברים הפנימית והרוחנית.

לכן לא שייך לתת עונש לגוף ולא שכר לנשמה כי הם פועלים מכח טבעם, ואין להם בחירה במעשיהם. השכר והעונש מגיעים לבחינת החיבור שלהם יחד. כשהחיגר הנשמה ינהיג את הסומא הגוף, ויכוון אותו לטוב, אזי הוא יקבל את שכרו יחד עם הגוף. ואם, חלילה, הנשמה נמנעת מלהנהיג את הגוף לדרך הטובה - אזי הגוף והנשמה מקבלים יחד את עונשם באמצעות הרוח הנמצאת ביניהם.

Man is given a physical body, and he is given a spiritual soul. His task, achieved by means of his free will, is to conduct his “spiritual orchestra” so that the soul raises the body towards spiritual pursuits. By so doing, a person's free will allows him to “earn” his true reward. (See further the Morasha classes on Caring for the Jewish Soul: Dynamics of the Body and Soul, and Free Will.)

4. Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, Siftei Chaim, Emunah & Bechira, Vol. II, p. 57 – Free will allows man to earn his eternal reward.

We find, therefore, that one of the reasons for free will is in order that a person should accept goodness from God without any feeling of embarrassment. Surely God could have created His world without the necessity for man to exercise free choice or to toil, but then man would feel ashamed that he is receiving a reward as a handout and not because he deserved it. By choosing between good and evil as well as toiling in Torah and mitzvot, he will not feel that he is receiving a free gift. Rather he is earning the goodness, just as a worker is not embarrassed to accept payment for his work – since he worked at his trade he deserves [compensation]. Similarly, through free choice a person will not be ashamed when accepting his reward.

נמצא איפוא, שאחד מטעמי הבחירה: כדי שהאדם יקבל את ההטבה מהקב"ה בשלימות ללא רגש של בושה. ודאי, הקב"ה היה יכול לברוא עולמו ללא עבודת הבחירה וללא עמל ויגיעה, אבל אז האדם היה מרגיש רגשי בושה שמקבל בחנם ולא בזכות, וע"י הבחירה בין הטוב והרע שיעבוד ויעמול בתורה ומצוות לא יחוש שמקבל מתנת חנם, אלא הרגשה שמגיעה לו ההטבה, כדוגמת בעל המלאכה שאיננו בוש לקבל שכר עבודתו, כיון שהוא טרח במלאכה א"כ מגיע לו, כך האדם ע"י הבחירה לא יהיו לו רגשי בושה בקבלת השכר...

There is an additional consequence of properly using our free will – one that reflects upon another major purpose of creation: bringing awareness to humanity of the existence of God, which brings glory to God Himself. God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, and the Seven Noachide commandments to the nations of the world, as the frameworks for Jews and non-Jews, respectively, to reach their potential and build a relationship with Him. When we strive to live according to Divine values, others recognize the existence of God, ultimately bringing glory to the Creator Himself. This principle is discussed more fully in the Appendix: The World was Created for the Glory of God.

Key Themes of Section I.

  • God is the Ultimate Good, and the nature of good is to want to bestow good upon others. God created the world in order to have someone to receive His good: Man. However, in order for the good to be truly good, man must earn his reward rather than receiving it for free.

  • Mankind was created with a physical body and a spiritual soul. The nature of the body is to pull a person downwards, towards earthly and physical matters. The nature of the soul is to raise him upwards, towards the spiritual and the Divine. The unique function of man (which is achieved, in its simplest sense, by human life itself) is to enable the soul to raise the body towards spiritual pursuits.

  • God created the world to bestow goodness upon humanity. However, for this goodness to be in its most perfect form, it must be intrinsic to us, a product of our own efforts and actions as opposed to being handed to us on a silver platter. As such, having free will, the ability to freely choose between good and evil, is a prerequisite for man to be able to earn the good that God desires to bestow on him.

  • The material world in which we live is merely the first of a two-stage process. God created man in order to bestow eternal reward upon him, and man was placed in this world in order to earn that eternal reward.

  • There is an additional consequence of properly using our free will – one that reflects upon another major purpose of creation – bringing awareness to humanity of the existence of God, which brings glory to God Himself.

Section II: The Nature of This World

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