QUESTIONS and ANSWERS II

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

4) Q. What is our aim in this world?

A. The Mesilas Yeshorim who stresses the importance of knowing our aim, as we mentioned before, also tells us what it is. In short he says,

"Chazal taught us that the sole purpose of man’s creation was to take pleasure in Hashem and to delight in His Divine Radiance. This is the greatest pleasure and delight that can be found. The place for this pleasure is really Olom Habo (I refer you to Questions and Answers, question 2 where I elaborate on Olom Habo) because that was created with the necessary preparations to receive this delight."

I always compare it to an operation. Everyone knows that surgery is not done in just "any room" in the hospital. Rather it must take place in a special sterilized room designated for this purpose, namely the Operating Room.

5) Q. So what are we doing here (in this world)?

A. Again, the Mesilas Yeshorim comes to the rescue. He says,

"... However, the way to reach this desire (of Olom Habo) is in this world... the means to get this goal is the Mitzvos... and the place to do these Mitzvos is only in this world..."
It can be compared to a person who said he wishes to fly to Eretz Yisroel. Instead of going to J. F. K. he goes in the opposite direction. Upon being asked why he went in the opposite direction, he explains that in order to go to Eretz Yisroel he has to go to his travel agent. He has the "tickets" which will allow him to go to Eretz Yisroel, and he is situated in the opposite direction.

So too we have to get the "tickets" (Torah and Mitzvos) that will let us go to Olom Habo.

6) Q. Why didn't Hashem send us straight to Olom Habo without having to work for it?

A. The Mesilas Yeshorim, (in his sefer Derech Hashem), explains that Hashem (so to speak) wanted that we should have the most perfect pleasure. It is well known that one appreciates something more if he earns it as opposed as to getting a handout. This is called "Nahama De’kisufa"- Bread of Embarrassment.

My Rebbi would always illustrate this with a scenario of a poor fellow who was going from door to door collecting charity. When he came to one person's door, the person told him that he wants to hire him to get him some groceries. The poor man happily went to do the job and received $5 for his services. There is no question that the poor fellow was happier with this "wage" more than all the charity that he was forced to collect. This person allowed him to retain his dignity. It's also very possible that the person didn't need the groceries and did it just to make the poor man feel good.

I myself remember when I (believe it or not) worked as a waiter in a summer camp. I had the youngest bunks who made the biggest mess. You can imagine that any tips that I received were not looked upon as charity, rather as well deserved wages.

In fact, the Sefer Hachinuch in Parshas Emor Mitzvah 325 explains the root of the Mitzvah of Sitting in the Sukah as follows,

"... That we should remember the great miracles that Hashem did for our fathers in the desert... and by remembering these great miracles... we shall be observant of His Mitzvos, and thereby be worthy of receiving goodness from Him. And this is His desire that He wants to bestow goodness."
I always add to this point a very interesting observation. We all understand that the normal order of things is as follows. First you need something done, consequently, you hire workers. This leads to you paying them their wages. No one is going to hire workers for something he doesn't need just to be able to pay them their wages. Well Hashem does. In His infinite Mercy He "hires" us just to be able to pay our wages.

In fact, He even made it as if He does need us. The Rav Yeruchum Levovitz, (quoted by "Lekach Tov" Breishis p. 289) quotes the Zohar (Seder Bo) who says on the posuk - "T'nu ohz L’Elokim - Give strength to Hashem..." (Tehillim 68):
(If this posuk sounds familiar - it should. We say it every day in Shacharis in "Hodu...". If it's not familiar, then daven slower. I refer you to the "Superman sicha - The Importance of Tefillah")

"When Yisroel does bad things they (so to speak) weaken Hashem's power, and when they do good things they (so to speak) give strength and power to Hashem."
And why did Hashem make the world this way? Rav Yeruchum explains, because Hashem is the paradigm of Goodness. He realized that if, when He did good to us, we would remain indebted to Him - this is not the epitome of Goodness. We would feel a feeling of lowliness on account of this indebtedness which can never be repaid. Consequently, Hashem made the world in a way that we should also be considered as if we were "giving" to Him. We are also giving (so to speak) "strength" to Hashem.

7) Q. How can we prove that Hashem created us for Olom Habo, maybe it was just for Olom Hazeh?

A. In Chapter 1, the Mesilas Yeshorim answers this with 2 points.

First of all,

"... What is a person's life in this world, who is really happy and at peace in this world?... How many pains, troubles, sicknesses,... and after all this--death..."
As I would explain this point, I would say, "If Hashem created us just for this world then, with all due respect, He did a lousy job."

I saw a similar point in, Lehavdil, "The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in the story entitled, "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger."

It is about a woman who always wears a veil over her face because she was horribly disfigured by a lion. Upon hearing her story, Holmes exclaimed, "Poor girl! Poor girl! The ways of fate are indeed hard to understand. If there is not some compensation hereafter, then the world is a cruel jest."

The Mesilas Yeshorim says another point.

"If Hashem just wanted to make us for olom hazeh, it wouldn't be necessary that the soul should be blown into the body. The soul is greater than angels and surely despises worldly pleasures... The neshomo can be compared to a commoner who marries a princess, whatever he brings her will be like nothing to her as she is a princess... The neshomo which is spiritual despises this (physical) world. Consequently, Hashem would certainly not create a final destination which the neshomo despises. Rather, the creation of man was for his status in Olom Habo, and therefore the soul was put into it, for it is worthy for it to toil, and with it a person can receive the reward in its place and time..."
8) Q. If a person doesn't believe in Hashem is he an atheist?

A. My Rebbi would always tell us a story to answer this question.

There once was a fellow who had a very interesting quest in life. There are some people who want to be ordained as a Rabbi and get "Semicha". This fellow wanted to be called an "Apikorus" - "Atheist". He started on his quest by trying to transgress every "Aveiro in the Book".

(The rule of "not interrupting one story by bringing another" notwithstanding, I'll tell you another one. [My Rebbi also used to tell this one in the middle of the first, so I'm just emulating him]. There was a well known rosho who came to his Rabbi to learn Torah. The Rabbi, who knew that he wasn’t doing teshuvah, asked him why?

The fellow said that he wanted to make sure that he transgressed every mitzvah in the Torah, so he had to know what it said. The Rabbi agreed to teach him only on one condition. He would promise the Rabbi that if he discovers a sin which he has not yet committed, he would go right out and do it. Of course the rosho agreed. They went through the whole Torah and apparently, the rosho was quite an expert and had managed to do all of them. The Rabbi reminded the rosho of the promise and then told him that there was still one more mitzvah that he didn't teach him yet.

"What is it?", asked the rosho.

"If I tell you, and you didn't do it yet, will you do it now?", the Rabbi inquired.

"Of course, I promise I'll do it right away."

"O. K., You're not allowed to commit suicide, go kill yourself!!")

Anyway, this fellow did every sin he could think of but he didn't realize his aspiration. Nobody called him Apikorus. They called him other names, which are not fit to print, (maybe they are, in "The New York Times" but not in the "Neveh Website"). What really bothered him, was that he heard that there was a fellow in a far away town known as "Moshe the Apikorus". He saw that it was possible to reach that "great height", but it constantly escaped his grasp. Finally, he decided to visit his "idol" Moshe the Apikorus. Whenever he would ask people for directions to the home of "Moshe the Apikorus" they would correct him and say, "You mean "Reb" Moshe the Apikorus." This certainly made no sense to him. To make a long story short (I know it's too late for that), he arrived after a long journey at "Moshe 's" house.

His idol opened the door and, sure enough, he was everything the fellow thought he would be. He was eating a ham sandwich and writing on Shabbos.

He asked Moshe, "What's the secret, how do you obtain the honor of being called an "Apikorus"?

Moshe then asked him, "Well, do you know Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi (the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud)?

"Of course not."

"That's not good. How about Mishnayos and Chumash?"

"No."

"What about Kuzari (by Rabbi Yehudah Halevi), Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed by the Rambam), or the Dialogue between the Ramban and Pablo Christiani (an apostate)?

"Wait a minute, I want to be an Apikorus. I don't believe in any of those things. Why should I learn them?"

"My dear friend," concluded Moshe, "If you learned all of those things, that I mentioned, as I did, and you still don't believe, then you can be called an Apikorus. However, if you haven't learned anything, then you're not an Apikorus. I'm sorry to tell you, but you're just one big "Am Haaretz - Ignoramus."

Unfortunately, if it weren't so tragic, we could laugh. Most "Atheists" nowadays are ignoramuses (I may be one myself, but I think the plural may be ignoramii - as radius - radii). I always like to say, "How can you be a non - believer, if you don't even know what you don't believe in? Come to Neveh and learn how to be an "Atheist" the right way."

9) Q. What is a simple proof that Hashem created the world?

A. Rav Elchonon Wasserman in the "Kovetz Mamarim" ("Mamar Al Haemunah" - "Essay on Faith" translated and found in the back of the book, "Epoch of the Messiah") quotes the following Midrash. An apikorus asked Rabbi Akiva to prove that Hashem created the world. Rabbi Akiva asked the fellow, who made his suit. The fellow said that it was the weaver. Rabbi Akiva then said to his talmidim, "Just as the suit is evidence of its weaver (because how else could such a complex garment come about, do you think two threads just got together and formed a garment?), so too the complexities of the world (which is a lot more than a garment) is evidence of its creator.

My Rebbi would also tell us a moshol based on the Chovos Halevovos that also brought out this point.

A particular scientist wouldn't believe anything unless there was a scientific and logical proof for it. One day he came across a house where he heard a baby screaming. He tried to get in but he saw that the door was locked and barred from the inside and outside in such a way that whoever locked it must still be inside. There were also no windows for anyone to get out from. Nobody could get in and nobody could come out.

When he realized that nobody was taking care of the baby, he broke down the door and went inside. He saw that the baby was sitting on the table with a quill in his hand. He comforted the baby and then he went back to the table. What he saw astounded him. Next to where the baby was sitting, there was a bottle of ink and a manuscript. The beauty and depth of the manuscript was such as he had never seen before. Where was the author?

Using his logical mind he deduced that since no one could have come out, as the door was barred on the inside, the author must still be here. He went looking all over the house to see where he could be hiding. After many fruitless hours of search he came to a startling conclusion. Since the author must be here, and there is no one else here but the baby, so it must be that that the baby was the author. But how can a little baby make such a beautiful manuscript? Again, his logical mind thought until he came to a "brilliant conclusion".

Babies like to move their hands. This baby had a quill in his hand. Next to him was a bottle of ink and paper. When the baby moved he must have by coincidence put the quill in the ink. Then by another coincidence he put the quill with the ink on the paper. Strangely enough his quill just so happened to form letters. Not just any letters, mind you, but beautiful ones. These letters just so happened to form words, the words sentences, and they in turn paragraphs. They even formed a profound philosophical treatise. Also somehow he must have locked the door with the heavy bolt.

When you try to explain to him the folly of his logic, he'll argue that there is no other possibility. Who else is the author? I don't see him and he's got to be here. So as improbable as it may seem my solution is the only one.

The truth is however, that obviously he is a fool. If we are dealing with logical solutions then it's much more logical to say that the author couldn't have been the baby. The odds that he could have made a legible letter are so astronomical, not to mention a word, sentence and paragraph-all with profound philosophical concepts. Not to mention, where did he get the strength to lift the heavy bolt?

Then who then is the author? Obviously, some great profound philosopher. Where is he? I don't know, but he must be hiding here somewhere. Just because you can't find him doesn't mean that he doesn't exist. It is more logical to say that he's here and we just can't find him than to say that it was the baby.

So too, when we look at the world which is an infinite amount of times as complex as a profound manuscript. It is more logical to say that there is a Creator and we just can't see Him, rather then to say that it happened by billions and trillions of coincidental occurrences.

The Lev Eliyahu on Parshas Miketz p. 163 says a similar point. He brings a posuk in Yeshayahu 40 posuk 26 (it's also the Haftorah for Parshas Va'Eschanan - Shabbos Nachamu) that says "Look up to the heavens and see who created these things... (the sun, moon and stars)..."

Yeshayahu the Prophet is telling us to look up in the heavens and learn Emunah in Hashem. Look at the precision of the sun, moon, and stars. (I remember when I would ask my Rebbi when sunset is and he would show me a paper that listed the sunrise and sunset for the whole year. I wondered how they knew when the sun would set next week when it didn't happen yet. Then it was explained to me that Hashem made the sun to follow a precise schedule which can be calculated mathematically.)

He then asks why do you need to look up in the heavens to see Hashem, you can see him down here on the ground? If a person would analyze this earth he would be very amazed. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, in his books always stresses this point. He points out how one can see Hashem in an orange. How come the orange peel is a beautiful orange color on the outside of the peel while on the inside is it bland? Obviously it shows planned creation. Hashem made the peel beautiful to advertise itself. "Eat me", it is proclaiming. Only the outside which is visible to the people, needs to advertise not the inside. Also, when it is unripe, it is green to be hidden by the green leaves so as not to eat it and get sick. So why does the Navie tell you to look in the heavens and not on earth?

The Lev Eliyahu answers that in reality we could learn a lot by looking here at earth, but we are so used to it. The effect wears off because we experience it everyday and we think it's "nature".

However, in the heavens where we have not traversed, we can be amazed at its wonders. (In fact the astronauts, when they were in the heavens, saw the wonders of the solar system. They even beamed a message to the Space Center. They quoted the Bible, Genesis 1:1 -"In the beginning G-D created...". Many of them, when they returned to earth became more religious. Some even entered the Clergy).

I remember a cute story from when I was in the "Shidduch" Circuit that is related to this point.

I once went out with a biology teacher, who taught in a frum girls school. I spoke to her about this point and said that she shouldn't teach them just biology. She should also be teaching Emunas Hashem from biology. I also suggested that she copy this posuk from Yeshayahu and post in on the classroom wall. After the date, I told the shadchan that I was interested in seeing her again. He called her up to find out her feelings. The reply was quite interesting. She really didn't want to continue, but she wanted to know where the Posuk was. Naturally, I gave it to her. Wouldn't it be interesting if I went into the school and saw the Posuk up on the wall?

10) Q. Why do so many people deny it? How can we say (on Rosh Hashana) "V'chol Mamminim"-"We all believe" when so many people apparently don't?

A. The truth is that everyone deep down inside really believes in Hashem. The proof of Rabbi Akiva, mentioned before, is quite convincing.

However, many are afraid to admit it even to themselves because this would mean commitment. If Hashem created us, then he has a job for us. This may cause an upheaval in my way of living till now. I'm not interested to change my way of living, consequently, I have to deny Hashem no matter how illogical it may be.

This is discussed at length in the "Ma’amar al Emunah" -"Essay on Faith" by Rav Elchonon Wasserman. It is brought down in Kovetz Ma’amarim.

The book entitled "2001 Space Odyssey", by Gershon Robinson, also elaborates this concept. He uses a term called "cognitive dissonance". Sometimes, no matter how logical something may seem, if accepting it will challenge the way we are living till now, we put up mental blocks and refuse to accept it.

He illustrates it with an interesting example. A person buys a "Timex" watch, but then sees a commercial showing clearly that "Omega" is better. Had he not bought the "Timex" he may have listened and accepted this fact. However since he already bought a "Timex", accepting the commercial will make him feel uneasy. Is he going to give back his "Timex" just to get an "Omega"? It's not easy. Consequently, he refuses to accept it no matter how much proof they bring.

I saw an interesting story regarding a lung cancer specialist who smoked. His secretary was embarrassed when people would ask her why there are ashtrays in his office. Why encourage smoking in a lung cancer specialist's office? She was ashamed to admit it was for the Doctor himself. Even when he contracted cancer and was receiving chemotherapy, he couldn't resist taking out his pack of cigarettes and smoking.

There is a story with Rav Chaim Soloveitchik (I believe) that also illustrates this point.

One of his talmidim left to America and he went off the derech. He was once back in Europe on a business trip and decided to visit his former Rebbi, despite the fact that he was no longer religious.

He came to his Rebbi and explained that he was bothered with many questions regarding Yiddishkeit. If the Rebbi could answer them, then he would repent.

The Rebbi was prepared to try, but he wanted to know one thing first. "Did you first have questions and these caused you to stop doing mitzvos? Or did you first get lax in the mitzvos, and when you wanted to repent, these questions prevented you?"

The talmid said, "I don't really see the difference but truthfully, I got lazy in my adherence to mitzvos, and I wanted to come back. But these questions were staring me in the face. Rebbi, if you can give me answers, I'll come back.

Reb Chaim replied, "If this is the case, then I can't help you. You don't have questions - you have answers. I can answer questions, but I cannot answer answers."

Reb Chaim was explaining that if these questions would have come first then they would be honest questions. However, since they surfaced only after he was lax, then they were just excuses and answers to ease his guilty conscience. He's not looking for answers so none will penetrate.

The Rambam (Hilchos Gittin) also points out that deep down inside, a person wants to do what the Torah wants, despite what he might say to the contrary.

In Hilchos Gittin (1:1) the Rambam states that "“If a person is forced to give a divorce it is invalid. Even if he was forced to say "I want" it's nevertheless considered forced and is invalid."

The Rambam later on (2:20) says that "If however a person is halachically required to divorce his wife (e. g. she committed adultery) and he refuses to divorce her, then beis din can use physical force. They hit him until he says "I want" and then the divorce is valid."

The Rambam asks why isn't this considered forced and invalid?

He explains, "One is not considered forced unless it is to do something that he is not required by the Torah... However, one who's Yetzer Haro is overpowering him not to do a Mitzvah or to do an aveirah and he is forced to do the Mitzvah or not to do the aveirah is not considered forced. Rather he wanted to force himself with his evil views to do the opposite.

Therefore, this fellow who (is obligated but) doesn't want to divorce his wife, he (really) wants to be part of Klal Yisroel - he wants to do all the Mitzvos and refrain from the aveiros and it's just his Yetzer Haro which is overpowering him. When he is hit till his Yetzer Haro is weakened (knocked out of him) and he says "I want" that is considered divorcing with his volition."

I'm going to end off this answer with a beautiful scenario that Rav Noach Weinberg illustrates to underscore this point.

Imagine a typical Kaddish-sayer who drops in to the local shul. The fellow is a self-proclaimed atheist but he says Kaddish nevertheless.

He explains to the Rabbi that he really is still an atheist, but he promised his father to say Kaddish three times a day in shul. “Rabbi, I keep my word, a promise is a promise."

The Rabbi says, "Let me ask you a question."

"What would you say, if your father would call you over to his deathbed. He would ask you to promise to say Kaddish three times a day to this hole in the wall?"

"Well, " the fellow replies, "I would think that he went crazy."

"Yes, but what would you do?"

"Well, I guess I would humor him and say, 'Sure Dad, anything you say. Which hole do you mean exactly?'"

"What would you do after he died? Would you keep your promise and say Kaddish to the hole in the wall?"

"I'm not crazy, I'm not going to say Kaddish to a hole in the wall."

"Well, if that's the case, " the Rabbi concludes, "Since you don't believe in Hashem, then whom then are you saying Kaddish to? Isn't it to a hole in the wall??"

Obviously, the answer is what we said before. Deep down inside he knows that he is saying Kaddish to Hashem, but he can't come out and admit it.

May Hashem help us to know the truth, admit it, and live our lives accordingly.

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