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As one of the rabbis on Aish.com’s Ask the Rabbi service, I find that many people are bothered by the following theological question. If God really loves us and wants what’s best for us, why didn’t He just put us straight in Heaven? Let us enjoy a relationship with Him right away! Why did God create such a dark and distant physical world, insisting that we first observe His mitzvot [commandments] and overcome challenges, only afterwards rewarding us with the World to Come – if we pass our tests? Why expose us to so much evil, pain and temptation beforehand? Perhaps one would answer that we are not ready for a relationship with God in our current state. We are too coarse and physical today to connect with the infinite. We must first improve and develop ourselves, making us more spiritual and able to enjoy a relationship with the Divine. But if so, why did God have to make us so physical in the first place? Why couldn’t He have created us as angel-like beings, ready to enjoy the ultimate pleasure of closeness to God from the start? Can’t God do anything? I would like to discuss three approaches to this issue. But in truth they are all the same answer – three angles to the same fundamental truth. Each point of response will introduce us to yet a deeper and more profound understanding. Let us get started. Reward or Humiliation? On the simplest level, if a person receives reward for that which he did not do, it would not be reward. It would be embarrassment. If God would “reward” us by giving us the World to Come for free, we would not enjoy it. We would feel the same shame and humiliation a person experiences in this world living off of charity and handouts. It shames a person to admit his dependence on others – that he could not support himself through his own efforts but must subsist through the beneficence of others. In the spiritual world that feeling is no less – in fact it is infinitely more intense. The Kabbalists refer to such unearned reward as “nahama d’kisufa” – the bread of shame. Whenever we receive something we did not earn, we feel just a little bit compromised. We are a little less “real,” a little less fulfilled. The Sages likewise state: If one eats at another's table his mind is never truly at ease (Avot d'Rav Natan 31:1). It is uncomfortable at best to live off of others, to take that which we did not earn. If another person supports us and we give nothing in return, we would never feel close to that person. We would not so much as want to look him in the face. The same is true of the World to Come. If God would place us there and begin “rewarding” us for doing nothing, we would never enjoy it or feel close to the God who granted it. It would only create in us a crushing sense of worthlessness and dependence. Our reward would not be deserved – and we would know it – eternally. Creating Something from Nothing But it is even deeper than this. In the physical realm we are familiar with such concepts as the Law of Conservation of Energy. Energy cannot be created from nothing (ever since God's initial act of creation). It can be concentrated, diffused, directed, and converted (even into matter if you have enough of it and you know what you're doing), but it can never be created or destroyed. The same is true in the realm of the spiritual. Reward which is unearned is not only too embarrassing to accept. It by definition cannot exist. God cannot, so to speak, “reward” us for nothing. If our reward is earned, it is the natural outcome and extension of our efforts. It is our own independent creation. If we have done nothing, reward does not and cannot follow. Thus, to truly reward us, God had to give us the opportunity to earn our reward. To allow for this, He created a physical world – one of darkness and distance from Him (or at least apparent distance from Him). Serving God would be a challenge. We would have to discover God through physical layers of separation and indifference. We would have free will – the possibility for evil and destruction would exist – and we would have to exercise that freedom with care to come closer to God. In this way our lives and actions would be meaningful, and our ultimate reward would be ours. We will have a true and eternal existence – knowing that we have earned it through our own everlasting accomplishments. Creating Ourselves There is an even more fundamental dilemma contained within this – one which goes to the core of man’s very existence. Man as a created being is not truly “real.” If a person is created by God and never achieves on his own, he is no more than an extension of God. He is no more independent of God than a painting is of its painter. And such a person will live with a crushing sense of inexistence. I do not truly have reality; all I am is a projection of a bit of God's wisdom and might. But I am not real. And having a functioning heart and operating brain does not really alter that basic, debilitating sensation. We now arrive at the crux of the issue. We began by stating that unearned reward embarrasses its recipient. We then stated that in a logical sense, there is not even such a thing as unearned reward: it cannot come to be from nothing. On the deepest level, however, if I have never done anything to justify my existence, I am not even real. I am a passive, created being, nothing more than an extension of the God who created me – almost a figment of His imagination. And this is the crushing and debilitating sense of inexistence which plagues and hounds the truly thinking human being to no end – and drives him to the ends of the earth to achieve immortality. (This was even the sense that drove Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge – but for a separate discussion.) How does a human being make himself “real”? Through accomplishment, by exercising his free will and choosing good. When from my own volition I choose good when I could have chosen evil, I have made something of myself: I have struggled and won. And this not only earns me reward; it grants me existence. I am not merely a being fashioned by God, functioning as my Creator programmed me. I have accomplished! My deeds are my own! God didn't do them for me! They are my own creation, brought about by my own free will. And this grants me reality and eternal life. I live forever because I have performed deeds of immortality. I am – and there can be no greater joy. We can now begin to appreciate what the World to Come truly is. It is not merely a place of reward. It is a place of existence. Until I have achieved and justified myself, I am not truly real. I am a mere extension of God, no more capable of a relationship with Him than a sculpture can have with its sculptor. But when I create my portion in the hereafter I earn my existence. I become my own being, independent of God – and one who can both love and be loved by Him. The World to Come is the place of such closeness. We exist and are eternal – and as a result, we can bask eternally in the ecstatic glow of the Divine Presence.

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1 Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi = "This is one of the reasons why on the most basic level "belief in Jesus" for salvation runs contrary to Jewish teaching [and human logic]. By putting one's faith and trust in someone who lived 2,000 years ago to save them from eternal damnation or to guarantee a place in Heaven, any reward that is received is "bread of shame" and is nothing more than charity. A parent who truly loves their child doesn't buy them a car, new computer or a new phone whenever the child asks but makes the child "earn" the reward by giving the child a feeling of accomplishment in doing chores, etc. Of course as a parent, I would give my children anything they desire, yet I understand that by giving them something without earning it, I'm actually harming my children by not helping them understand the value of hard work and self accomplishment. So too, God loves all of his children infinitely more than I could possibly imagine, and as such, He wanted us to feel a great sense of achievement through our actions so that we can feel a sense of self worth and "earn" the reward we are given."
2 Deena E = "Hi Yaakov, I understand your view here, but  you are comparing two different subjects. Salvation and rewards are two very different things through the lenses of a parental perspective. Any loving and caring parent will freely provide the opportunity to save their child from death. It doesn't matter what the price is; it is something that I as a mother would do regardless of whether or not my son and I are in good standing. Whatever it takes, I would say it, do it or give it--if it meant life or death for my son. This is not the same thing as me giving him a reward or blessing him for good behavior. If my son and I are not in good standing, he would have to work to get back into right standing with me to reap the full benefits and blessings from me in our relationship as his mother. God sent Christ to the whole WORLD according to John 3:16 to save us from death. But according to John 10:10, Jesus was only talking to his disciples when he told them that he came to give them life more abundantly. For centuries the Jewish people, God's holy, chosen people were practicing the keys God had already given them to live this abundant life based on right standing with God the Father. Salvation for Israel has never been an issue and according to the New Testament it never will be, hallelujah! It wasn't until after Jesus died, rose and the indwelling of His Spirit came among us in the earth (Acts 2) that this was truly made available to all who would receive this gift. As a Christian, who is disobedient at times, I believe I am still saved in times of disobedience. However, when I don't harken to the voice of God, I cannot expect to receive His blessings and the rewards and benefits that I have that come from our relationship with Him being my Father. It's only when I turn back to Him and His ways, do I become eligible for His blessings. Rewards require works with God as with any loving parent, but salvation from death is a free loving, gracious gift."
3 Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi = "Deena, I truly respect your opinion. However, from our perspective there is nothing I need to be "saved" from. Jews do not look at life as evil or cursed, quite the opposite, Jews look at life as a way that through our struggles we can improve ourselves and get closer to God. I have heard many Christians say that the Earth belongs to the Devil and that he runs the world. In that situation, I would agree with you, then we need to be saved from life, however there is a fundamental difference in how Christians and Jews view the world. Jews believe that God runs the world and directs an angel called "Satan" to try and test us. He does this in order to give us the ability to choose between good and evil. Isaiah 45:7 states: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” So since we can both agree that “God is only good” then that means his creation of evil was necessary in order to bring about an ultimate level of goodness. The purpose of evil is so that we can choose to do good instead. Evil was created for us to reject it.Now, in the Jewish worldview, Satan is not “evil” per-se but is a good angel with a “dirty job” merely following the will of the one who created him. Job 1:6 - One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with themJob 1:11 - The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger. Satan is no different than Gabriel, Rafael, Raziel, or any other Angel that has a specific mission. In fact, the Hebrew name of the Angels tells us the reason they were created. The name Gabriel in Hebrew means “God is my Strength (From the root Gibor meaning strong). This Angel is often associated with fighting the wars of the Israelites on behalf of God. Gabriel doesn’t heal the sick, that’s not his mission however “Rafael” in Hebrew means God is my healer (from the root Rofeh to heal) and the angel Rafael is associated with healing. Angels, having no free will cannot disobey God any more than your car can decide to turn left when you turn the wheel right. The entire difference between humanity and all other creation is that only we have free will. In that respect we are created “in the image of God”. Satan [which means the accuser or prosecutor in Hebrew, sort of like how the prosecutor works on behalf of the court] only does what he is commanded to do by God. From a Christian perspective however, I can understand why you believe that you need salvation. As a Christian, you believe that the moment you were born, you were cursed to live in sin because of Adam and Eve’s error in the garden thousands of years before you were born (which you had nothing to do with). You believe you are never able to come close to God on your own and are condemned to live a life doomed and despised for all eternity because you were born into this sin. However, thankfully about 2,000 years ago, God sent his only son (which was really himself) to die for all past and future sins that all humans did and would ever do. Satan, deciding to ignore God’s will, decided to rule the Earth instead of following God in Heaven in order to send our souls to Hell where he can rule over us. However, belief in Jesus’ sacrifice prevents that from happening. By believing this statement of faith, and placing your trust into the hands of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven and eternity is yours. You are now “saved” from eternal damnation.Based on this outlook I can understand why Christians feel the need to be “saved”. Christians look at life as inherently bad and people born into sin are intrinsically evil. In essence, a “merciful” God condemned all humanity (certainly this was the case before Jesus’ sacrifice) to a lifetime of pain and suffering in this world and then eternal suffering in the afterlife too if they don’t believe a certain way. Thankfully, as a Jew my worldview is quite different and I don’t feel I need to be saved from an evil God who condemned my soul to eternal Hell through no fault of my own. God holds me accountable for the good I do, as well as the bad I do and ultimately we each pay the price for our actions. In order to help me in my journey through life, God gave me a set of instructions (Torah means Instruction) to try and live by so that I can navigate the murky waters of life. Sometimes I slip and fall, but when I get up, I brush myself off and get back to what I am supposed to do. When that happens, God looks at me as righteous. Proverbs 24:16 - A righteous man falls seven times and rises up again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity. So in essence, because Jews and Christians have vastly different outlooks on life, belief in Jesus for “eternal salvation” holds no interest for the Jewish people since we disagree on what exactly Jesus is supposed to save us from. The reason that the Jewish scriptures don’t discuss Hell yet list hundreds and hundreds of commandments on how to live in the physical world is because this is our mission and purpose in life. God placed us on earth to make the most of this world and not worry about what happens in the next. If we can live a just and good life and work to follow the word of God to the best of our ability, than we can feel confident that God will keep his promise and take care of us. For a Jew, the question is not “are we saved” but “am I following the will of my creator”. If we can honestly answer yes, then we have done what God has placed us here to do. I wish you all the best, Shalom and peace and blessings to you always."
4 Deena E = "Hi Yaakov,I cannot speak for what anyone else believes; people have very different ways of interpreting the scriptures and extracting their own beliefs based on their own interpretation. Some of the Christian viewpoints you mention display very distorted interpretations of the scriptures, which unfortunately are found all too common in the church.I believe that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof...all that is in the earth belong's to Him (Psalm 24:1). I do not hold to a belief that mankind is cursed. In Genesis 3, God did not curse anyone. He said, "now the ground is cursed, because of you;" in other words, Adam (man) now has to work very hard, maybe 10 times harder than before Adam and Eve sinned, in order for the earth to bring forth the fruit of our labor. I do not believe anyone is a match to even be called God's enemy, but that satan--the adversary or enemy--is an enemy of man. Although Hitler was just a man, I believe there was a spiritual force (satanic/demonic) behind the holocaust; I personally find it odd that he reportedly was obsessed with the Ark of the Covenant (History.com--Hitler-and-the-Ark) as some of Israel's past enemies like the Philistines.I do not believe that satan rules the earth. I do believe that he is a fallen angel and tries to thwart God's people from fully pursuing God and what God has for them. I believe that Jesus came to not only bring salvation to the whole world, but more so to restore the kingdom of heaven (as He said many times in the Gospels) here on earth--->>>>that once was before Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Eden. His disciples even asked Him about the restoration of Israel's reign in Acts 1:6, but instead Jesus answered basically said it wasn't any of their business what exact times and dates The Father had planned for that....rather we would receive His Spirit. The glory of God that filled the tabernacle in Exodus 40, now dwells in His people...according to Acts 1:8. In fact, our bodies are referred to as the temple of the Lord's Spirit (1 Corinthians 6). I remember a time when I didn't believe any of this, but had a personal encounter with God, which is why my convictions are immovable...it has nothing to do with religion, but a very real and personal relationship with a loving God who chose me when I clearly was not trying to chose Him. And I think that ultimately, your question, "am I following the will of God," is something that one who doesn't know God would ever care to ask. I can honestly say that I did not know Him nor did I care before He found me. You are right; we have to be good stewards over all He's given us in this life. And knowing that, I do believe that there is a final day of destruction as mentioned on several occasions in the prophetic books (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, etc.). This final day--the Day of the Lord-- is what I believe the world (not Israel) needs salvation from, if that makes any sense. "
5 Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi = "The Jewish sages say that this is one reason why Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge as they did not want to live in Eden without earning their way. By eating from the tree and internalizing good & evil they thought they could fight off the evil inclination and earn reward... the task unfortunately was too difficult for them to bear."
6 Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi = "This is a fundamental principle of Judaism."
7 Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi = "The same holds true of punishment. When we sin, God does not punish us out of anger, it's merely a natural consequence of our actions. In other words, If someone jumps off a 20 foot balcony and breaks his leg, was that God "punishing" him for his jump or was the broken leg just a consequence of jumping from a 20 foot balcony? So too, when we sin we are naturally inviting punishment as a consequence of our improper actions."
8 Deena E = "Yes Yaakov! Amen. God built laws into the nature of all of creation! Galatians 6:7, Exodus 23:16. We also cannot expect to a harvest if we've never sown seed."