“And He does kindness to thousands of generations, to those who He loves and those who guard His mitzvos.” – Shemos 20:6
In the Aseres Ha’Dibros we are told Hashem pays back the wicked for four generations and the righteous for two thousand generations. Rashi explains the ratio of two thousand to four comes out to be five hundred to one. This teaches us the measure of good to bad in the world is five hundred to one.
This Rashi is very difficult to understand. If the Torah is teaching us Hashem created the world with an operating principle that the good outweighs the bad by a measure of five hundred to one, this doesn’t seem to be consistent with reality.
Granted, life is good – but can anyone say the “pleasures” outweigh the “pains” five hundred to one? Five hundred to one means the rough spots in life are so overshadowed by the enormity of good that they are almost nonexistent. For every headache I endure, I enjoy five hundred times the pleasure. For every stomach cramp I suffer through, I benefit from five hundred measures of delight. The problem is this just isn’t the way life is. How do we reconcile this Rashi with reality?
A Perspective on Pleasure
If we study the world, we find many features that have no functional purpose; if the world were created strictly from a practical standpoint, they would not be there.
For example: tastes in food. Food is something we need to maintain our energy levels and health. If its only function were nutrition and nothing more, then all food should be taste like soggy cardboard. Yet it doesn’t. There are so many variations, each with its own unique flavor, texture, and aroma.
Why did Hashem create food this way? Why not make it all the same? The reason is for our pleasure – so that eating, which we have to do, shouldn’t be a chore but in fact be delightful. Taste is something Hashem added solely for our benefit – for us to enjoy.
An awful lot of thought went into creating the different foods we eat. Rav Avigdor Miller described an orange: When you peel it, you find wedges inside. If you look closely, each of these wedges is surrounded by a thin membrane. When you pull back the membrane, you see many tiny sacs. Inside each of those sacs is the juice of the orange. Why did Hashem created an orange in that manner, with thousands of little sacs? So that when you bite into the orange, the taste is released in a burst of flavor.
Hashem created those sacs so that there would be another dimension to our enjoyment. The sensation of eating an orange would be different without this feature. It still would have tasted delicious, but this is an additional aspect Hashem wanted us to enjoy, so He designed the orange that way.
Did you ever wonder why apples are red on the outside? Hashem made apples red because it is nicer to look at, and that makes the process of eating an apple more pleasing. The presentation adds much to the enjoyment of the dish. So Hashem designed foods to have eye appeal to enhance our experience of eating.
What happens when you bite into an apple? You don’t get that burst of flavor you got when you bit into an orange. You get a crunch. Why is that? Why not design all fruit the same? The reason an apple is crunchy is because it is fun to crunch on food. When Hashem made apples, He designed the cells to form hard walls, so that when we bite into it, we get that crunch. It didn’t have to be that way. It was designed that way so we should enjoy it.
What about aroma? Each of the assorted foods not only has varied tastes and textures but markedly different smells, which contribute to our total enjoyment. When Hashem created food, He added this dimension of wonderful aromas to even further enhance our taste experience.
The food we eat comes in so many assorted flavors and textures, each one appealing to a different element of our tastes. Hashem re-planned and created all of this for us to enjoy.
And this is but one example of countless features Hashem created strictly for our enjoyment. Hashem created, sights, sounds, textures, colors, depth, and so many other features in this glorious world so that our experience here should be more pleasure filled. If the world was created for practical reasons only, all of this wouldn’t have to be. But Hashem put it all here, for us to enjoy.
Yet how often do we actually take the time to enjoy the foods we eat? How much attention do we pay to the sights we see? It takes training and concentration to consciously enjoy the life we lead. If we do, we will see a tremendous amount of detail and concern put in for our benefit. And we will see a tremendous demonstration of the kindness Hashem shows to man.
This seems to be what Rashi is saying. The ratio of 500:1 is accurate in this world. The problem isn’t the amount of pleasure in the world; the problem is that we lack the training to enjoy it.
When we learn to live with intention and use this world as it was designed to be used, we come to recognize the love Hashem has for all of His creations, and we then lead a purposeful, pleasure-filled life.