What's the Purpose?
Judaism's Views on the Meaning of Life
by Rabbi Hillel Rotenberg
Translated by Rabbi Moshe Lichtman

What's Judaism's view on the purpose of life? Delve into an age-old question with this clear, contemporary book based on the teachings of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto that clarifies the Jewish view on the true meaning of life.

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Live It Up

I have asked scores of people to tell me what they think the purpose of life is. The following is a sampling of their answers:

1. To serve God
2. To perform mitzvot
3. To reach the World to Come
4. To learn Torah and daven (pray)
5. To overcome the yetzer hara (evil inclination)
6. To enjoy life
7. To help others
8. To live by values

Let me guess what you answered. I’ll bet you chose either answer number 3 or 5, or perhaps number 4. You might have even picked number 1. But I’m pretty sure that you eliminated answer number 6 right away. Who would imagine that the purpose of life is to live it up? Most people find such an egotistical outlook on life incomprehensible.

Nonetheless, the answer to the question, What is life’s purpose? is in fact number 6. The purpose of life is to live it up — that is, to really live, to derive as much true pleasure from life as possible, to delight and to enjoy.

When I say “live it up,” I do not refer to the common definition of the term. I mean, to derive true pleasure from life. What exactly is true pleasure, and how does one attain it? We’ll deal with these questions in the following chapters.

Enjoy

In his small but powerful work, Mesillat Yesharim (The Path of the Just), Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal) tells us what man’s overall obligation is in this world:

“Behold, our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught us that man was created for the sole purpose of delighting...and enjoying” (chapter 1).

That the purpose of man’s existence is to enjoy sounds absurd at first glance. The Ramchal elaborates on the nature of this enjoyment:

Behold, our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught us that man was created for the sole purpose of delighting in God and enjoying the splendor of His Shechinah [Divine Presence], for that is true enjoyment and the greatest pleasure that can be achieved.

And the place where this pleasure can truly be derived is Olam Haba [the World to Come].

The following is a summary of the principles of life’s purpose, according to the Ramchal:
• Man was created to enjoy and derive the highest and most consummate form of pleasure possible, which is to delight in God, for He is the Source of the ultimate good.
• The primary location for this enjoyment is the World to Come.
• In order to get there, one has to work and toil in this world. The reward for doing so is the pleasures of the World to Come.
• Our task in this world is to perform a series of actions (positive commandments) and avoid another set of actions (sins, or negative commandments).
• The time allotted to work on this task is short (maximum 120 years), while the period of reward and pleasure is everlasting — in our terminology, we would say billions of years.
• The entire creation and the reward one receives for doing mitzvot are based on the fact that the Creator is good and He wants to bestow good upon His creations.
• Life is a constant battle between good and evil.

The preceding is a brief overview of the principles. Now we will explain them at length.

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