What is the Purpose of Life?
Taste of Talmud and Halacha
Rav says: G-d’s name must be included in a blessing in order for the blessing to be efficacious, Rabbi Yochanan says that you also have to mention the fact that G-d is the King of the universe for the blessing to be valid. Abayey explains that this dispute is based on their varied understandings of the verse which tells us what the farmers say when they bring Bikurim (the gift of their first fruit). The farmers say, “I have properly completed the tithing in all of its details (Deut. 26:13).” All agree that one of the requirements for a proper tithing is that a blessing should be said. They are only arguing as to what must be included in the formula of the blessing (Brachos 40b). Rashi comments, the wording of the blessing is: Blessed are you our G-d, King of the universe, Who has commanded us to separate the tithes and priestly gifts. Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky Zt”l points out that we can learn from this Rashi that he is of the opinion that this blessing is biblical in origin. From Rashi’s commentary to Deuteronomy (26:13) it is also clear that he understands that there is a command to make a blessing prior to separating tithes. Great scholars of later generations were troubled by these words of Rashi. They asked: In regards to other Mitzvos such as blowing the Shofar or performing a Bris Milah, the blessing is Rabbinic in origin. Why is the Mitzvah of tithing different? Therefore, they amended Rashi’s statement to say that there is a biblical command to praise G-d prior to separating tithes but not necessarily to make a blessing prior to the Mitzvah. Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky Zt”l provides us with a novel insight which removes the necessity to amend the words of Rashi. The Mitzvah of separating the tithes is different than other Mitzvos such as blowing the shofar and Bris Milah. It is readily apparent when one performs Mitzvos which do not give us physical pleasure, such as these, that they are being done because G-d commanded us to do them. The blessing that is said prior to their performance is rabbinic in origin because it is merely intended to help us clearly express the otherwise obvious. The Mitzvah of separating tithes, however, has two aspects to it. The first is very physical. One must remove the forbidden food from this mixture in order to be able to enjoy his produce. The second part, giving the gift to the Levites and Kohanim, is clearly a spiritual act in service of G-d. Since, when a farmer first removes the fruit, it is not clear from his actions whether he is doing it in order to serve G-d, or just to enjoy the produce, there is a biblical command to make a blessing prior to the tithing. In so doing, he makes it clear that not only is the spiritual side of this Mitzvah being done to serve G-d but the physical aspect is being done to sanctify G-d’s name in this world as well.
Taste of Parasha
The Medrash, in Bereishis Rabba 1:15, relates an interesting debate between the great sages Shamai and Hillel. Shamai is of the opinion that heaven was created before earth, whereas Hillel is of the opinion that earth was created before heaven. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai commented on this debate: In my opinion, they were created at the same moment. The Nesivos Shalom explains: These sages are not arguing about the physical creation of the world, rather, they are conveying to us their different approaches as to the purpose of life itself. What is the loftiest goal in life? Shamai is telling us: The most important objective in life is to do Mitzvohs that are purely spiritual, heavenly. Hillel says there is an even loftier objective. In his opinion, the main purpose of life is to uplift all earthly matters to be used in the service of G-d. To this, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai says, “Both ways of serving G-d are commendable. G-d’s name can be sanctified both through Mitzvos that do not have physical pleasure and through those that do.” With this insight, we can now understand why our sages say that the world was created so that the Jews would bring the gift of Bikurim (first fruits) as gifts to the Kohanim. This is a Mitzvah in which both ways of serving G-d come together in an ideal manner. We too, can learn from here to look for ways through which to elevate all aspects of our lives towards a more meaningful existence in the upcoming year.