God's Plan: There is No Escape
All Torah lessons are meant to avert us from misconception towards truth, or teach new principles in areas yet undiscovered by our minds.
Regarding the first type, we have tendencies towards stealing and physical aggression, so we are taught not to give in. We are tempted to satisfy our instincts and lusts, so we are taught to control them. Possessing insecurities and desiring protection and success, we are taught not to cater to our fantasies by creating or worshipping idols, or believing in "powers" other than God, such as witchcraft, horoscopes, amulets and astrology, which we imagine can improve our futures. With this in mind, we wonder: from what exactly did Rav Elazar Hakfar intend to avert us with his statement below? (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:22)
"Those who are born will die, and the dead will live. The living will be judged, to learn, to teach and to comprehend that He is God, He is the designer, He is the creator, He is the comprehender, He is the judge, He is the witness, He is the plaintiff, and He will judge, blessed is He. For before Him there is no wrong, no forgetting, no favoritism, and no taking of bribes; and know, that everything is [judged] according to an exact accounting. Let not your inclinations trust that the grave is your escape; for against your will you are formed, against your will you are born, against your will you live, against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give a judgement and accounting before the King, king of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He."
"Those who are born will die, and the dead will live."
This teaches that our time here is limited. But also, that if we choose wisely, we can enjoy the afterlife. Rav Elazar Hakfar intends to reject that thought in our minds, that we live forever. Yes, the immortality fantasy is necessary. To function as God wishes, to work, build homes, start families, and feel happy...man must have a sense that his labors are not in vain. He must feel he will live for a number of decades. However, many people do not accept that they will ultimately die. This world is all they know. Furthermore, our minds are bribed by the secular and even religious masses following lives of fame, wealth and lusts. "How can they be wrong?" we think. If we live the lie, we forfeit our lives. We lose that one chance to obtain the real good, the eternal life. Rav Elazar Hakfar teaches us to be real. Life does come to an end...on Earth that is.
What is the first step on the path of reality? It is this...
"The living will be judged, to learn, to teach and to comprehend that He is God, He is the designer, He is the creator, He is the comprehender, He is the judge, He is the witness, He is the plaintiff, and He will judge, blessed is He."
Abandoning a life of denial and understanding reality, begins with grasping the "Cause" of reality. That being our conviction in God's existence: 1) His role in the universe and 2) His role in our lives.
All that exists is due to the will of a Single Being; He alone is the only being not requiring creation. He created and formed all things. As such, as He created all people, we are taught that He is the comprehender: He knows all of our speech, actions and thoughts. Therefore, He alone can judge us, bear witness for or against us for our actions, and He will pronounce our sentence when we answer to Him once we die.
But as all is in His hands, how are we to know we will receive a fair trial? Therefore know this...
"For before Him there is no wrong, no forgetting, no favoritism, and no taking of bribes; and know, that everything is [judged] according to an exact accounting."
All wrong and error is due to ignorance, and ignorance is only possible for a human. Thus, God is not ignorant of anything. He also does not possess the human flaw of forgetfulness. All of the good and evil we perform is met with His reward or punishment. Also, God does not favor a great person: if he sinned, he too pays the price just like a lesser soul. God takes no bribes, as the Rabbis teach: God does not consider so much good one has performed, so as to dismiss some few evil actions. Each good and evil act is recorded, remembered, measured, and finally, an unavoidable but completely just sentence is delivered to each person.
"Let not your inclinations trust that the grave is your escape; for against your will you are formed, against your will you are born, against your will you live, against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give a judgement and accounting before the King, king of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He."
Finally, Rav Elazar Hakfar teaches us that there is no escape. Just as our existence is compelled without our choice, as is our death...so too are we forced into giving an accounting before God when we pass away.
Rav Elazar Hakfar wishes to close off any possible thought of us denying the full range of our existence, from birth, to death, to accountability before God. Rav Elazar Hakfar desires only the best for each of us, as do all of our great sages. He understood how men and women get caught up with the distractions and fantasies of our Earthly lives, and become enamored and fooled by this temporal existence. We feel it won't end. So he wishes to make us face and accept the undeniable truth that we all die. But he is not morbid. His intent is that we immediately abandon the foolish pursuits we all follow, and invest our short time here into what could be an eternal and highly enjoyable existence.
We all die. But some think death is an escape from accountability, "Let not your inclinations trust that the grave is your escape". But we don't simply vanish. We all must answer before God.
If we wish the best for ourselves, we must admit that we are created beings, and therefore, we expire. But there is a great good ahead of us...if we act with honesty. The message of "there is no escape" is truly a blessing. It can refocus us on pursuing an existence that does not end with death. We can also avoid punishment if we repent, and discontinue Torah violations.
Two final questions now present themselves:
1) What does Rav Elazar Hakfar mean with his repeated use of "against your will"? What is his subtle message?
2) Furthermore, Rav Elazar Hakfar first says it is against our will to exist, then he says it is against our will to die. This clearly demonstrates how a human contradicts himself. And this, answers the first question...
The Primary Lesson
Rav Elazar Hakfar wisely equates human will, with error. That is why a human changes his mind: his will is not based on a full grasp of reality, but on emotional desires. And when a new emotion hits us, we shift our views, but only to satisfy our desires; not because we are following reality. Of course, before we were created, we had no will, so the meaning of "against our will we are born" means that 'after' we are born, we do not desire our new existence, which includes the yoke of the Torah. Then, the fear of death opposes that initial will, and we change, to desiring life.
With his presentation of human contradiction, Rav Elazar Hakfar teaches that our will is severely flawed...unless we adopt the Torah's view, which is God's will, that never changes. (Malachi, 3:6) His will never changes, since He alone possesses all knowledge, rendering His will absolutely true. No "unseen" consideration exists in God's mind, so nothing new causes His will to become obsolete. God's will is the best for man's existence. He alone knows what will offer us true happiness. Therefore, "Abandon your will and perform God's will, and He will then abandon performing the will of others, and perform your will." (Ethics, 2:4) Although it goes against our desire for complete freedom to act as we wish and cater to our desires, happiness is achieved only when one follows the single path that leads to it. A scenic road that heads leads off a cliff is a far more enjoyable drive, than a rocky, desert road that leads to a town booming with business, great schools and all our needs. Just as attaining the best life here requires us to abandon the scenic route – and the cliff – so too, opting for the destination instead of the path leads to our eternal lives. Accept that you must forgo what 'seems' pleasurable, if you wish to attain what is a truly pleasurable and eternal existence. You will find that what you originally thought was most enjoyable, is not; and what you think is inconvenient and less pleasurable will actually become something you enjoy more than you thought.
Trust the Rabbis who unanimously endorsed Rav Elazar Hakfar. Consider that these brilliant minds know better than you, as they teach God's plan, which must be best for us all.
Rav Elazar Hakfar speaks against our false notions. Ponder his words, they are all true. Don't waste another moment living as if you do not die. Even today can be your last day. Do you wish to be held punishable for violating God's Torah? If we violate Him, He will punish us. But if we restrain our need for emotional gratification; if we abandon sin and invest time in Torah study and mitzvos, we will each find the most fulfilling life here, and we will receive the great reward that awaits us all.
And consider this: there is no escape from God's plan.