The question of all questions

“In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth... Let us make the human being in our image and after our likeness.”

Picture from the Parasha 370 (photo credit: Israel Weiss ( http://artfram)
Picture from the Parasha 370
(photo credit: Israel Weiss ( http://artfram)
Why did God create the world in the first place? If God is the All-in-All and perfectly sufficient within Himself, why the necessity for a world? And why a world such as the one in which we live, in many respects a vale of tears and tragedy? From many perspectives, the question just asked is the question of all questions. It has special poignancy – and is therefore closely interrelated – to the Days of Awe which we have just experienced and even for the festival of Succot, in which the Divine decree regarding rain is handed down from Above and is the conclusion of the period which marks individual human destiny.
Rav Haim Vital, the disciple-scribe of the legendary Rav Yitzhak Luria (known as the holy Ari), gives an amazing response to our query based upon God’s second revelation to Moses at Sinai when He forgives Israel and allows for the Second Tablets. The basis of our Yom Kippur liturgy is God’s own selfdefinition (as it were): “The Lord, the Lord, God, merciful and gracious...” (Exodus 34:6). God here defines Himself as a God of unconditional love, the God of love before one sins and the God of love after one sins (Rashi ad loc), and the God of compassion who loves His children just as a mother loves those who came from her womb.
Love, however, cannot exist in a vacuum; love requires an object to be loved. And that object must also be a subject in and of itself; after all, love for something which one can control is loving an extension of one’s self and is only another form of selflove.
God therefore had to create “other,” someone who may be a part of Himself but who must also be separate from Himself, someone who would be granted freedom of choice. That freedom of choice must allow the beloved to do even that which the Lover would not want him to do (see Seforno to Genesis 1:26, “in our image”).
This idea formulated by Rav Haim Vital has ramifications which impinge upon almost every human relationship, which poignantly expresses what love is and what love is not. If a husband loves only a wife whom he can control, if a parent loves only an adult child whom he can control, then one is loving not the other but rather oneself, loving only an extension of oneself.
Clearly this is not true love. Undoubtedly, love which leaves room for other to do even that which one would not want him to do leaves the door open to conflict and – in the case of God – human sin. In the most extreme case, it enables the possibility of Auschwitz and Treblinka. And, from a theological perspective, does not such uncontrolled freedom of choice place an inordinate limitation on God’s power? At this point we must enter into our discussion the very profound and bold image of tzimtzum; this kabbalistic notion suggests that in creating the world God constricted or limited Himself in order for Him to be able to leave room for other in a very real and palpable way. To be sure, God does make two promises: He will always step in to make certain that Israel, the people of the Covenant, will never be destroyed and that we will ultimately return to Israel (Leviticus 26). God also guarantees that we will eventually return to His teachings and therefore will be worthy of being redeemed.
And the prophets maintain that Israel will eventually fulfill the Abrahamic charge of bringing redemption to the entire world.
However, a God of love had to create independent individuals who would be worthy of His love, who would serve as His partners and not merely as His pawns or puppets.
This theological underpinning magnificently explains the significance of Rosh Hashana. On the day of the creation of the first human being, we are commanded to blow the ram’s horn, the musical instrument by which kings of Israel were crowned. We learn on Rosh Hashana that it is the task of Israel to bring the message of a God of love, peace and morality to the entire world. It is the task of Israel to eventually enthrone God in the world because, after all, there is no king without subjects.
God has been accepted as king by us, but not yet by the world at large, certainly not by the United Nations, certainly not by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and all of his appeasers. Our task is a daunting one, but God promises that we will succeed.
The drama of history is fraught with human failure, Divine forgiveness and ultimate reconstruction and repair. This process began in the Garden of Eden, continued through the Sin of the Golden Calf in the desert and encompasses the destructions of both Temples followed by exile and persecution. However, our God is a God of love – and love means to give and love means to forgive. Love also empowers the beloved, and we have certainly been empowered by God’s promise of our eventual redemption. Our return to and development of the State of Israel is a powerful affirmation of God’s empowerment. Hopefully this time we will truly succeed.‘And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day’ (Bereishit; Genesis 1:12-13)
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.