One of the fundamental principles of creation is free will, where man can choose good as a matter of his own choice. God's purpose in creation does not allow man to be a robot or a puppet. But if God's purpose does not allow man to be a robot, neither does it permit him to be a prisoner.
Just as man must have free will, so must he have the opportunity to make use of it. A man locked up in a prison may have the same free will as anyone else, but there is little that he can do with it. If man is to do good as a matter of free choice, he must also have the possibility of doing that which is not good. For man to resemble his Creator to the greatest possible extent, he must exist in an arena where he has the maximum freedom of choice. The more that man resembles God in His omnipotence, the closer he can resemble Him in his free choice to do good.
If man is to choose good, there must also be the possibility of choosing evil.
It is for this reason that God created the possibility of evil.
God therefore told His prophet, "I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil. I am God, I do all these things" (Isaiah 45:7). In keeping himself from evil, man takes the first step toward good. Job thus said, "the fear of God is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28:28). God created evil in order that it may be conquered.
If nothing but good were possible, it would produce no benefit. To use the Talmudic metaphor (Chulin 60b), it would be like carrying a lamp in broad daylight. The Zohar states, "The advantage of wisdom comes from foolishness, just as that of light would not be discernible, and would produce no benefit. Thus, it is written, ‘God has made one thing opposite the other" (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
PART OF GOD'S PURPOSE
Ultimately, there is one source of everything that exists, even evil. It is not that God actually created evil, but it is through His will that the possibility of evil exists. Everything comes from God and must return to Him. In the meanwhile, however, evil exists in order to be conquered.
Whether or not this temptress succeeds, she is still a servant of the king, doing his will.
The Zohar gives us a very excellent example explaining this. A king once wanted to give his son greater responsibility. Before doing this, however, he wanted to test his loyalty. What did the king do? He hired a temptress to try to persuade the son to rebel against his father. She was to use all her wiles to tempt the boy to go against his father.
Whether or not this temptress succeeds, she is still a servant of the king, doing his will. Even if she succeeds in persuading the son to go against his father, she is still doing what the king bid her. The same is true of evil. Ultimately it exists to fulfill God's purpose.
POTENTIAL INTO ACTION
As discussed earlier, the closeness to God resulting from our good deeds is reflected in our satisfaction of accomplishment accompanying such acts. However, such satisfaction is enhanced according to the difficulty of the accomplishment. Our sages thus teach us. "The greater the suffering, the greater the reward" (Talmud - Avot 5:23)
The Midrash illustrates this with another example. A king once wanted to know which of his subjects really loved and respected him. He built an iron wall around his palace. He then proclaimed, "Let those who really love and respect the king come to the palace." Those who were truly loyal scaled the iron wall and thus showed their loyalty.
This wall of iron represents the forces of evil in the world. God makes it all the more difficult for us to approach Him in order to increase our ultimate reward.
This is expressed quite well in another Midrash: Another king wanted to test the loyalty of his subjects. He built a high wall around his palace, and then placed a very narrow opening in it. All those who wanted to see the king had to squeeze themselves through this very narrow opening.
God creates barriers to help bring our potential into action.
Of course, there is one major difference between God and the earthly king in the example. God knows and does not have to find out. The reason why He creates these barriers, however, is to bring out our own good potential into action. In this way, He enhances our feeling of satisfaction of accomplishment, and ultimately, our reward.
This world was therefore created as a place of maximum challenge. For the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. This of course may result in many who do not overcome the challenge. Still, even they will receive reward for the good that they do.
Ultimately, however, the world was created for the sake of those who overcome their challenge. Our sages thus teach us that the universe was created for the sake of the righteous. As the "Sefer HaYashar" puts it, the good are like the fruit, while the evil men are like the husks. Both may grow on the same tree, but only the fruit fulfills its purpose.
This is the meaning of a question disputed in the Talmud (Eruvin 13b). For two and a half years, there was a dispute between Shammai's school and that of Hillel. Shammai's school contended that it would have been better for man never to have been created. The school of Hillel said that it was better for man to have been created. After two and a half years, they finally agreed and decided that man would have been better off if he had not been created. But now that he is created, let him be very careful what he does in this world.
THE RISK OF LIFE
It is indeed a gamble for man to have to descend to this world of temptation. One might argue that it would have been better for God to grant man a less complete good and not make him earn it. This is the dispute between the schools of Shammai and Hillel. The good that man receives is greatly enhanced by virtue of his having earned it.
Still, coming to this world is a great gamble. It is a place of the greatest of temptations. If a man was given an initial choice, perhaps it would be best for him to choose a lesser good, without taking the gamble of coming to this world of evil. This was the contention of Shammai's school. The school of Hillel, on the other hand, maintained that the good realized makes the gamble worthwhile. Ultimately, we are taught that one cannot depend on a wager.
It would be better not to take the gamble.
They therefore finally decided that it would have been better for man not to have taken the gamble of having been born into his world. This contention is supported by the words of the wise Solomon, "I count the dead happy because they are dead, happier than the living who are still in life. Happier than both is the man yet unborn, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 4:2-3).
When a man dies, he no longer faces the challenge of evil in this world. Better yet, however, is he who is not yet born. It would be better for him never to have to take the gamble, struggling against the evil of this world. Solomon therefore concludes, "Better a handful of repose than two hands full of effort and chasing the wind" (Ecclesiastes 4:6).
In Part 8, the final installment, we'll examine the dynamics of physical-spiritual unity.
Reprinted with permission, from "If You Were God" (NCSY-OU)