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What is the purpose of life?

by Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro

  

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The Short Answer:

To create heaven on earth.

The Askmoses Answer:

Big Questions

By asking the question "What is the purpose of life?" we have already answered a much bigger question: "Does life have purpose?" For by asking what it is, we are implying that it is. And that is a good thing. The premise of purpose not only validates the question; it also directs us towards finding the answer.

If life has purpose we must assume that life, all of life, and all of existence, has a Creator; for chance has no purpose. And if there is a Creator He would presumably know its purpose. Actually, He would be the only one with the answer to that question.

Meaning vs. Purpose

Meaning is arbitrary. Once an item exists any number of meanings can be ascribed to it. You can use your treadmill as a clothing rack, your dictionary as a paperweight, or your painting as a placemat. If you own it, you can make it meaningful to you in any way you desire, because there need not be an intrinsic connection between the meaning you ascribe and the object you ascribe it to.

Purpose is prefixed. Purpose precedes that which it produces.
But Purpose is prefixed. Purpose precedes that which it produces. For example: before a person is hired, a purpose exists within the corporation for hiring new help. That purpose will determine the type of person they will hire, and the role he will play in the company. An employee can't determine his responsibilities; he must inquire from his boss for what purpose he was hired.

Similarly, one can attribute much meaning to and in life. But only He who created life can determine its purpose.

The Midrash Memo

The "Torah predated the world".1 The Torah illustrates our purpose, it therefore preceded our existence.

The Torah tells us that G-d settled Adam in the garden "to work it and preserve it".2 Now if G-d is capable of creating the garden and man, does He really need Adam's assistance? And if G-d is afraid man will ruin the garden, why create man in the first place?

The Midrash says G-d created the world because "G-d desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds."3

This Midrash tells us a lot.

Firstly, it tells us G-d desired: He did not need. He did not need Adam. He did not need the garden. He did not need period. He desired. But He desired with a specific vision in mind. He had a purpose. 

He desired a Dwelling Place: Not a place to visit; a place to dwell.

On the bus you are a commuter, at work you are a professional, in the mall you are a consumer, but at home you are you. Your home is where you dwell. Its walls reflect your taste, and your essence fills its rooms. G-d too wanted a home.

In the Lower worlds.

Worlds that express G-dliness are high. Worlds that conceal G-dliness are low. But worlds that can deny G-dliness, are the lowest of the low.

Welcome to our world. Not just our universe, but our little reality. Each of ours. Humans are the only existence in creation that can deny our creator. Angels express G-dliness. Nature conceals it. But only we can deny it.

Nothing else can make anything for G-d, because nothing else can ruin anything G-d makes.
And that is why only we can make G-d a home. You. Your reality. Your world. That is where G-d wants to be manifest, felt and expressed. Nothing else can make anything for G-d, because nothing else can ruin anything G-d makes.

To be able to enhance the garden man had to have the ability to ruin it. That is why G-d created us with free choice: so we would have the ability to destroy. And that is also why He endowed us with His Torah and its commandments: So we would know how to enhance.

1 Infinite Lane

What does G-d's home look like? It looks like G-d: Perfect.

This world can be perfect. It will be. And you were created to implement that perfection.

A world without hunger, hatred, war, illness, ignorance, and depression. A world blooming with nourishment, love, peace, health, knowledge, and joy. A world that not only reflects G-d's goodness; but expresses G-d's pureness.

G-d created the world with that vision and that potential. Then He created you with the hopes that you would create that reality. A reality that expresses G-d's mandate, rather than our own desires. A world that mirrors G-d's infinity, rather than our own limitations.

G-d calls it Eden. Moses calls it Life. The Prophets call it Moshiach. The Midrash calls it Home.

Your instincts call our planet earth, but your purpose calls upon you to turn that into heaven.

Footnotes

  • 1. Midrash Raba Breishit 8:2
  • 2. Genesis 2:15
  • 3. Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 7:1

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COMMENTS

Perfection

Posted by: David Bogolub, Deerfield, IL on Nov 07, 2008

Rabbi Shapiro says that G-d's home is Perfect. He then goes on to define Perfection. But that is perfection according to Rabbi Shapiro. The Torah, the written Torah, does not define perfection. I once asked a Rabbi what Heaven was like and he said we would all study Torah and try to understand G-d's will forever. He couldn't see that that would be the definition of Sheol for most people. Here Rabbi Shapiro can't see that his definition of Perfection conflicts with the majority of wise people. Health? Forever? No illness? What will Doctors do with their time? Ignorance? But if we eliminate ignorance than what are we? And whose ignorance? As we all disagree on issues, your knowledge might not be real knowledge. There's more but my point is we cannot work towards bringing Heaven to Earth as we have no idea what Heaven is like. We cannot work towards making Earth a place G-d would like to dwell in as we have no idea what that place would be like.

Editor's Comment

If you, I, and Rabbi Shapiro were all guessing at what this definition of 'heaven' is and how to get there, then your premise would be right. Your guess would be as good as mine since everything goes and we would all be equally clueless. Thankfully, such is not the case. The way to know what is real knowledge and truth and how to make this a heavenly dwelling for G-d is through the Torah and its commandments. G-d (Who knows how clueless we all really are without Him), gave us the system for making this goal of hevean on earth into a reality. The Torah is the instruction book for making His home. Also, the G-d tells us about what rewards we receive for making His dwelling - G-d's revelations, peace, healthy children and physical bounty among other things (Leviticus, chapter 26). Now all we have to do is follow these instructions....

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Best of AskMoses » Philosophy

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moshiach
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Adam
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.