A Perfectly Imperfect World
July 13, 2010
Have you ever wondered why we live in such an imperfect world? As wonderful as it is, life can be full of hardship and confusion. Hashem, the Creator of the universe is absolutely perfect. How do we reconcile this with the fact the world is not?
The first Mishna of the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avos states:
“The world was created with ten [Divine] utterances. What does this come to teach us? Surely it could have been created with one utterance! It was to exact payment from the wicked who destroy the world created by ten utterances, and to bestow ample reward upon the righteous who sustain the world created by ten utterances.”
“What does this come to teach us?” According to the Midrash, the question the Mishna is asking is two-fold. It is asking: a) Why was the world was created with ten utterances? And b) For what purpose does the Torah let us know that the world was created with ten utterances?
According to the Arizal’s commentary on the Midrash, a world created with one utterance would have reflected the oneness and unity of its Creator. In such a world spirituality would have been more easily and more powerfully perceived. In such a reality, suffering, challenges, triumphs, character deficiencies, and failings would be far less likely. At first glance such a world may seem appealing. However, an existence that hardly allows for any ability to fail and achieve, experience suffering and redemption, or joy and pain – all things that define life as we know it – would be a boring existence indeed! It should be noted that in the times of Moshiach (the future redemption we are all waiting for, may it come speedily in our days), we will be content to live in such a world. However, the reason we will appreciate the oneness of Hashem and the unity of Creation being so apparent is likely because we have endured many years of goles or spiritual exile.
As the Arizal states, Hashem created the world with ten utterances instead of one in order to create a very material world, thereby providing for the possibility of human challenge and achievement as well as reward and punishment. A person cannot experience the joy of self-actualization if a person is born perfect from the start. A person cannot experience meaning if they cannot pursue growth. Nor can a person experience fulfillment from improving the world if the world is in no need of improvement. The whole reason Hashem created this world in the first place is so that He could create an entity (human beings) who could actualize their potential and experience the sweetness of enjoying the fruits of their own labor. We all cherish and enjoy the things that we earn for ourselves far more than the things we are simply given. Therefore, the ability to fall down and get up again is in essence the point of life. Humanity’s ability to fail and to succeed is something we should all embrace rather than lament.
Our mishna states that the world was created by ten utterances in order “to exact payment from the wicked who destroy the world…and to bestow ample reward upon the righteous who sustain the world.” The Mishna uses the phrase, “to exact payment” rather than “to punish.” The Midrash explains that this is meant to teach us that Hashem does not punish human beings for the sake of revenge. Rather Hashem only punishes in order to set a person on the path of teshuva or return (usually wrongly translated as repentance), so that the person will thereby be given an opportunity to repay their debt and redeem themselves. Interestingly many wicked people prosper, because Hashem realizes that such people will not be aroused to teshuva through punishment. If such people fail to atone for their sins in this lifetime, ‘payment’ is then extracted from them in the next. In life, such wicked people become Hashem’s tools in providing good people with their needed soul corrections (For more on this, please read The Garden of Emunah by Rabbi Shalom Arush).
However, a question remains. Would Hashem, who is an infinite well-spring of kindness, create the world in a way that increases the punishment of the wicked? Furthermore, why does the Mishna list this as Hashem’s primary reason and the reward of the righteous as a secondary reason?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that through repentance one surpasses the level of a tzaddik (a righteous person) who has never sinned. One who experiences spiritual darkness returns to Hashem with an intensity much greater than that of a tzaddik. Such a person thereby elevates the negative acts they have committed, since their misdeeds become fuel for their return. However, tzaddik, however great, serves Hashem only within the permitted.
Through teshuva, one’s aveiras, or sins, are retroactively transformed into mitzvos! It is for this reason that the Talmud states that in the place of a baal teshuva (a Jew who has returned to Hashem through performing mitzvos), one who has been perfectly righteous one’s whole life cannot stand.
Says the Rebbe, Hashem creates the world with ten utterances, a world of disparity and challenge, to “exact payment from the wicked,” i.e., for the return of those who have fallen and secondarily, for the straightforward service of the tzaddikim.
The tzaddikim also have a holy purpose. According to the Sfas Emes, the Hebrew word for sustain, kiyum, in the context of Jewish law means ‘confirm.’ Homielitically, he renders that the Mishna is insinuating that through their G-dly ways the righteous confirm and testify that the world was created by G-d and that it is continuously sustained through the energy of His ten utterances.
The entire purpose of Creation is for us to grow as people, learn and teach Torah, and do acts of kindness. Chassidus explains that Hashem is constantly speaking the world into existence. May we continue to elevate the world around us and see through its fragmentation. May we enhance our awareness of Hashem’s Divine hand in Creation and may we soon experience a unified world in which His presence and glory are fully revealed in our physical reality!
Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews.
 Pirkei Avot. Kehot Publication Society, page 158