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תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: שְׁתֵּי שָׁנִים וּמֶחֱצָה נֶחְלְקוּ בֵּית שַׁמַּאי וּבֵית הִלֵּל. הַלָּלוּ אוֹמְרִים: נוֹחַ לוֹ לְאָדָם שֶׁלֹּא נִבְרָא יוֹתֵר מִשֶּׁנִּבְרָא, וְהַלָּלוּ אוֹמְרִים: נוֹחַ לוֹ לְאָדָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא יוֹתֵר מִשֶּׁלֹּא נִבְרָא. נִמְנוּ וְגָמְרוּ: נוֹחַ לוֹ לְאָדָם שֶׁלֹּא נִבְרָא יוֹתֵר מִשֶּׁנִּבְרָא, עַכְשָׁיו שֶׁנִּבְרָא — יְפַשְׁפֵּשׁ בְּמַעֲשָׂיו.

The Sages taught the following baraita: For two and a half years, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed. These say: It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created. And those said: It is preferable for man to have been created than had he not been created. Ultimately, they were counted and concluded: It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created. However, now that he has been created, he should examine his actions that he has performed and seek to correct them. Eruvin.13b

This conclusion seems to align with an analysis of the plain text of the Torah:

  1. Humans are born with bad inclination.

  2. If they follow it naturally, they are punished in this world and suffer from illnesses, hunger wars, etc.

  3. If they overcome it, and observe all the Mitzvos, Hashem grants them "normal human lives" - no illnesses, no hunger, and no wars.

So it looks that the Pascal's wager in the plain text of the Torah is negative - like saying "it's 50% chance that you lose and 50% chance that you merely keep your money" - people have more to lose than to earn.

Do our sources see this connection of the Talmudic conclusion to the text of the Torah?

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  • They are many ideas floating around. Some think it is childish to expect a reward. People should do good because it is the right thing to do and avoid evil because it is wrong. If this is the case, then reward and punishment are promises and inflictions made to the masses and not meant to be taken at face value. This is definitely a superior way of looking at it.
    – Jonathan
    Oct 31 '19 at 15:31
  • They are some truths to it. If you honor your parents it could prolong your life, at least a while.
    – Jonathan
    Oct 31 '19 at 15:32
  • Who is right? Does G-d mete out reward and punishment in accordance with human deeds? Is this contentiously? The smartest man who ever lived, Albert Einstein certainly felt that reward and punishment were childish. But if it is real, why do the righteous suffer? Why the holocaust? Where was G-d in the holocaust? Why did so many nazis get away with their crimes, including Hitler who put a bullet into his brain.
    – Jonathan
    Oct 31 '19 at 15:54
  • 2
    plain text of the Tora Like sadducees?
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Oct 31 '19 at 17:19
  • 2
    How can you say you ask for sources but not “deal with the idea of the afterlife or the world to come”?! AFAIK, there are no sources that completely disregard Torah sheba’al peh, or that disagree with the idea of some sort of afterlife and/or world to come, which would mean that there are no sources that would deal with this question!
    – Lo ani
    Oct 31 '19 at 17:21
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We can assume both parties are working within the framework of what we find in Koheles chapter 4 who states in verse 3 the one who was never born is better off. Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel just put a different spin on it.

ב) וְשַׁבֵּ֧חַ אֲנִ֛י אֶת־הַמֵּתִ֖ים שֶׁכְּבָ֣ר מֵ֑תוּ מִן־הַ֣חַיִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֛ר הֵ֥מָּה חַיִּ֖ים עֲדֶֽנָה׃

ג) וְטוֹב֙ מִשְּׁנֵיהֶ֔ם אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־עֲדֶ֖ן לֹ֣א הָיָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־רָאָה֙ אֶת־הַמַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה הָרָ֔ע אֲשֶׁ֥ר נַעֲשָׂ֖ה תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃

Translation from Sefaria

  1. Then I accounted those who died long since more fortunate than those who are still living
  1. and happier than either are those who have not yet come into being and have never witnessed the miseries that go on under the sun.
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  • If I understood you right, you're saying, there are more examples of this attitude in our sources. That's correct, however, this was not inferred from the Torah, ti was mere speculations. I asked if the conclusion stemmed from the plain understanding of the Torah.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 19 '20 at 15:32
  • Do you consider Koheles Torah or 'a source'?
    – user6591
    Oct 19 '20 at 15:34
  • I consider it a different type of source. IIRC Kohelet is not interpretations, it does not comment on the Torah.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 19 '20 at 15:40
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Rabbi Gershon Chanoch Henoch Leiner of Radzin writes in his Sod Yesharim in the name of his father the Bais Yaakov that the understanding of the Gemara is not that it would have been better for man not to be created, for if that were the case the Gemara should have said טוב לו לאדם וכו, rather it says נח לו which means that it would have been easier for man to not be created.

The understanding is that, in truth, it is better for man to be created, for God himself sent our souls down to earth with the understanding that each soul will ultimately fulfill its task and achieve the greatness it was destined for. Being that God is above time, he knows this to be a certainty and from God's perspective, there is nothing to be worried about, for his will is reality. From our perspective which is bound by time is where the doubt comes into play, for we don't have a tangible grasp on what our ultimate destiny will be. We are plagued with doubts as to what our task is and if we will fulfill it the right way(Not to mention more primal doubts like God's existence or spirituality, etc.). Our very limited scope of reality causes an inherent agonizing sense of uncertainty that, from a birds-eye view, would dissuade us from wanting to be created. Our goal as human beings is to instill in ourselves the belief that God destined us for greatness and that our suffering is not for naught.

I HIGHLY recommend that you read both pieces inside in full.

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  • A very keen observation indeed. So for those who claimed "נח" what does it mean?
    – Al Berko
    Mar 28 '21 at 18:44

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