All that the Holy One, Blessed is He, created in His world, He created solely for His honor, as it states: “All that is called by My name, it is for My glory, and I have created it, formed it, and made it” (Yeshayahu 43:7). And it says: “G-d shall reign for all eternity” (Shemot 15:18, Avot 6:11)
Pirkei Avot ends with a critical message for all mankind: Building off Sefer Yeshayahu, the Mishnah writes, “Everything that Hashem created in His world, He created only for His honor.” Although we may not be able to fully understand Hashem’s intentions, we know that (on some level) all of creation exists in order to honor Him.
Interestingly, the Medrash (Kohelet Rabbah 7:19) uses the same formulation (“kol mah shebarah”) in a seemingly different way when it tells us that Hashem showed Adam HaRishon the world and told him that He created it all for him, Adam.
Rav Yosef Karo (Maggid Meisharim, Bereishit) and the Ramchal (Da’at Tevunot, ot 18) take this idea further by explaining that the world was created to give people the chance to develop their souls through personal choice and struggle. Instead of being naturally close to G-d in a spiritual world with no alternatives, Hashem gives us the opportunity to choose closeness to Him in a physical world where His presence is hidden. The Ramchal (Mesilat Yesharim 1) adds that our mission is to realize that meaningful pleasure is closeness to Hashem in the next world, and a relationship with Him in this one.
These sources seem to imply that the world was created for our own personal development rather than for G-d’s honor. How can we reconcile these contradictory understandings of why the world was created?
Rav Chaim Freidlander explains the relationship between the two ideas by distinguishing between the goal and the means. Obviously, G-d does not need this world or the honor He “receives” from it. The world exists (as depicted by the Medrash, Rav Yosef Karo, and the Ramchal) in order to give us the opportunity to develop ourselves. The Mishnah in Avot, on the other hand, explains the means: how we achieve this growth. The Mishnah teaches us that personal growth hinges on recognizing and honoring G-d, and appreciating that we, as well as the world, exist only to recognize and glorify G-d.
The Universe and Man
The centrality of kevod Hashem as the world’s goal helps us understand why the world is so vast and intricate. Dovid HaMelech exclaimed: “The heavens declare the glory of G-d, the sky proclaims His handiwork” (Tehillim 19:2). Pesukei D’zimra reinforces this idea with the verse, “Our Lord is great and full of power. His wisdom is beyond reckoning” (Tehillim 147:5). The universe reflects the G-d who created it. Only Hashem could have created the boundless, sophisticated world we can only scratch the surface of understanding.
Obviously, man, created in the image of G-d, is able to appreciate and express this recognition on a higher level than the rest of creation. That is why we state in regard to man: “Blessed is He, our G-d, Who created us for His honor” (Siddur Tefillah, Seder Birkot HaTorah). Though man is created to honor G-d, sometimes we misuse our G-d-given ability and we come to believe that our lives are about ourselves. This forces G-d to remind us of our rightful place in His world.
This tension is expressed clearly in the world’s first generations. The snake told man that Hashem wanted to keep him down, and that if he ate from the Eitz HaDa’at, the Tree of Knowledge, he would become like Hashem and not have to depend on Him. In truth, the snake was right. Hashem does not want us to be like Him. We should know that we exist in order to serve and glorify His name, not in order to focus on ourselves.
This problem continued in the generation after the flood with the building of the tower. The goal of the builders was to “make a name” for themselves. To keep them from focusing upon themselves and their own name, Hashem split them up by introducing different languages. When man recognizes G-d and aims to work on His behalf, he is entitled to enjoy the world and work together with others who share this sacred mission. When he is focused on his own name, Hashem foils his plans and breaks up the misguided unity.
In contrast to the tower builders were Shem ben Noach and his descendants. Shem facilitated the first kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem’s name) when his noble actions caused Noach to exclaim: “Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Shem” (Bereishit 9:26).
His descendant, Avraham Avinu, was the first to spread the name of Hashem to the masses (see Bereishit 12:8). Avraham saw his mission as bringing people close to Hashem, and Hashem promised to make Avraham’s name great. When we realize that we are here to serve and glorify Hashem’s name, the greatness of our name appropriately contributes to this higher goal.
The Medrash (Mishlei 18:10) attributes this message to Avraham himself. Avraham responded to those who asked for his help in building the tower: “You’ve abandoned G-d’s name and you want me to help you make a name for yourselves?” (Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 26, remez 703).
Thus, Avraham is our role model. Hashem chose Avraham’s descendants, the Jewish people, to be a nation focused on glorifying His name. Instead of being focused on a tower that celebrates our name and achievements, we build a Beit HaMikdash that marks Hashem’s name and centrality. We will learn more about this, im yirtzeh Hashem, next week.