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Thought for the Day: Knowing Vs. Believing It's Great to Exist

R' Noach Weinberg, z"tzl, in his 48 ways lectures proved that we are woefully decadent.  He would ask, "What's the opposite of pain?"  The answer was invariably, "Pleasure!"  "Wrong," he would say, "The opposite of pain is comfort.  You are all saying your greatest pleasure is to be comfortable.  That's decadent."  His demonstration that pain and pleasure are not opposites?  Every parent knows that his greatest source of pain and pleasure is one and the same: junior(s).

For two and one half years, Chazal (Eiruvin 13b) tells us, the debate raged: no'ach lo l'adam sh'nivra o sh'lo nivrah?  This statement is usually mistranslated to say something ludicrous; so I shan't even repeat it.  In any question that involves a side of "had not been created", one must be wary that much bigger things are going on here than meet the eye.  Another problem is the word "no'ach".  In this context, it means something like "more comfortable", or "less distressing".  So the debate was something like whether it would have been more comfortable/less distressing not to have been created.  Hmm... seems like a funny question; why should I care whether being created was comfortable or distressing?  There is no goal to be comfortable or less stressed.  The goal is simple to earn one's way to olam ha'bah.

Their conclusion -- "no'ach sh'lo nivrah" --  doesn't seem to help clarify why Chazal spent two and one half years of their precious time discussing this.  Wait!  They had an add on: now that you have been created, sort out your bad from good (m'fashfesh) actions; other says, improve the quality (m'mashmesh) your actions.  Well... that certainly clears things up now, doesn't it?  Uh... no, not really.

R' Yisrael Salanter (as explained by Michtav mei'Eliyahu) explains that everyone knows intellectually/in principle that it is a tremendous give of infinite good that we we created.  The question on the table was whether one can come to a concrete belief and appreciation of that reality, or is it always going to have to be just taken on faith?  Moreover, if I can't make that real to myself, how do I avoid total despair at my guaranteed inability to reach the ultimate goal of perfection?

Chazal took a vote and concluded that "no'ach lo sh'lo nivrah"; you are never going to be able to move beyond that final, blind leap of faith that it really, really is all good.  How do you avoid despair?  Look at your actions.  When you are first starting, you are tossing out a lot of bad... take pride in that!  When you have reached a point where you feel good about your actions, look at them and improve them... and take more pride in that.  Repeat.

You can't reach perfection on your own.  You don't need to.  The One Who gave you existence loves you and will give you all the help you need.  You do your part; He'll do His.


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