Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 115: Why Do We Love Life in This World?

The physical body a like a screen, blocking the divine light from reaching the soul. A thoughtful individual should want to free his soul from these physical constraints.

And yet, implanted deeply within us is an overriding love of life in this material world. We naturally want to live, and possess a powerful instinct to survive. It is axiomatic that every natural (but uncorrupted) human desire must be consistent with universal truths. As Kohelet taught, “God made man upright” (Ecc. 7:29). An intrinsic human quality cannot conflict with a basic ethical tenet. How then does our love of life fit with the moral imperative for the soul to be unhindered in its spiritual goals?

“The dead do not praise God, nor do those who go down in the silence [of the grave]. But we bless God, from now and forever!” (Psalm 115:17-18)

The psalmist sharply contrasted the silence of the dead with the praise of the living. As the Talmud explains,

“One should always engage in Torah and mitzvot while alive. For after death, one no longer has Torah and mitzvot, and God derives no more praise from him.” (Shabbat 30a)

What does it mean that the souls cannot praise God after death?

Rav Kook explained that we have two distinct human desires. While different, both are legitimate and proper. First, we seek to advance, to improve and become better. And secondly, we wish to attain a high, respected level.

The soul can only truly achieve the second goal, an elevated state, when freed from physical constraints. Yet advance and improvement is only possible while the soul is within the body and influenced by its desires. In short: death is a state of being, while life is an ongoing process.

What is praise of God? True praise is when we recognize God’s perfection through the perfection of His works and creation. Only when we discover a new aspect of divine perfection in the world, previously unknown, do we truly praise God. Praise comes with new understanding of the universe. Such enlightenment can only exist in this world, a world of change and advancement. “The dead do not praise God.

Spiritually, we advance through Torah study and mitzvot. These tools, however, serve no purpose in the next world. “After death, one no longer has Torah and mitzvot, and God derives no more praise from him.” The soul no longer improves (mishtabeach) after death. The special praise (shevach) derived from the soul’s elevation to new heights is only relevant to those alive in this world.

Thus, our innate love of life is based on the remarkable ethical aspiration, implanted in the soul, to seek improvement and self-betterment.

The Sages taught (Menachot 29b) that God created two worlds with His holy Name. The physical world was created with the letter hey, and the next world with the letter yud. Together, the spiritual and physical realms interact; together, they compose God’s Name.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III, p. 80)

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