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תנו רבנן: שתי שנים ומחצה נחלקו בית שמאי ובית הלל, הללו אומרים: נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא, והללו אומרים: נוח לו לאדם שנברא יותר משלא נברא. נמנו וגמרו: נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא, עכשיו שנברא - יפשפש במעשיו. ואמרי לה: ימשמש במעשיו

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. (Eruvin 13b)

THis sounds like a harsh and ungrateful statement, certainly contradicting one of the basic principles that G-d created the world to make good to the creations.

So how did they arrive to this, seemingly heretical, conclusion?

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  • The title of the question is mistaking
    – kouty
    Nov 1, 2019 at 12:44
  • נחזיק טובה לאבותנו שאלמלא לא חטאו...
    – kouty
    Nov 1, 2019 at 12:45
  • 1
    I edited your title to more accurately reflect your question - please check to make sure I understood you correctly.
    – DonielF
    Nov 1, 2019 at 14:42
  • Better for who? Why is everyone assuming it would have been better for us?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 29, 2023 at 16:42
  • Related (duplicate?): "Better for Man to Not have Been Created"
    – Tamir Evan
    Mar 30, 2023 at 18:38

4 Answers 4

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Maharsha in Makkot 23b explains as follows:

There are positive commandments and there are negative commandments. If you aren’t born than you can’t fulfill the positive commandments, but you also can’t violate the negative commandments. Thus, the dispute was whether it is better to definitely not violate the negative commandments and give up the opportunity to fulfill the positive commandments, or to take the opportunity to fulfill the positive commandments but possibly also violate the negative commandments.

When the Talmud says they counted it is referring to counting the commandments. They saw that there are more negative commandments than positive commandments so they all agreed that it would be safer to not be born. This way you will definitely have 365 commandments on your side and 248 commandments against you, while if you are born it could end up in the reverse (or even worse).

ולפי שאילו לא נברא האדם לא היה בו מעשה וא״כ היה בבריאותו צד שכר וצד הפסד דהלאוין הוי ודאי מתקיימין לולא נברא והשתא שנברא אפשר שלא יזכה ויעבור הלאוין נמצא מפסיד בבריאתו והעשיין הוא הפך זה שאלו לא נברא ודאי לא היו מתקיימן והשתא שנברא אפשר שיזכה ויעשה ונמצא שיהיה נשכר והשתא פליגי מצד בריאתו חד אמר טוב לו שלא נברא מצד הלאוין אפשר שיהיה נפסד יותר משנברא ויקיים העשיים דנמצא יצא שכרו בהפסדו וחד אמר טוב לו שנברא שאפשר שיקיים העשיין משלא נברא ויקיים הלאוין דיצא הפסדו בשכרו ואמר בזה דנמנו וגמרו ר״ל שבאו בזה למנין המצות שהלאוין הם יותר מהעשיים וע״כ הסכימו וגמרו לומר שלא נברא האדם בשביל עצמו ויותר היה טוב לו שלא נברא כי הוא קרוב להפסד מחמת הלאוין שהם רבים ורחוק לשכר מצד העשיין שהם מועטים

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  • 5
    So much for not weighing the mitzvos against each other (Avos 2:1).
    – DonielF
    Nov 1, 2019 at 14:43
  • @DonielF Doesn’t this agree with that? They weren’t weighing the value of individual mitzvos; they were calculating which weigh you would have a greater quantity of mitzvos.
    – Alex
    Nov 1, 2019 at 20:04
  • But maybe those 248 are worth more than those 365, even though they’re fewer.
    – DonielF
    Nov 1, 2019 at 20:21
  • Thank you for your finding. As usual, you refrain from adding your personal view, so I need to argue with Maarsha :). On your side, however, you explained the Pshat of how they reached the resolution arithmetically. I agree. But in my question, I tried to ask - how did they contradict the very basic principle of G-d creating the Man to make good for him? So even if their empirical findings lead to this sad claim they could not go against G-d, or could they? Because it sounds pretty heretical to me?
    – Al Berko
    Nov 2, 2019 at 16:53
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    @Alex But if we can’t tell the value of Mitzvos, maybe it’s actually 248>365?
    – DonielF
    Nov 3, 2019 at 6:30
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Eruvin 13b says נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא.

I believe the fact that it says "noach" (better), and not "tov" (good), is significant.

The creation of man was clearly "tov" (good). But the life of the soul in the World to Come before birth and after death is clearly "noach" (better).

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  • An interesting interpretation! You definitely deserve +1. Now, how about a source? Because all versions (see English) translate it as preferable as says the [new] title.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 2, 2019 at 17:45
  • If you try to translate נח, that would be "comfortable" maybe "agreeable". Anyway, the whole conclusion has a bad connotation, don't you agree? Like, "well, it's good but not worth it".
    – Al Berko
    Nov 2, 2019 at 17:50
  • @AlBerko -- My source is my head. I hope that's enough. :-) Nov 2, 2019 at 23:05
  • it is absolutely crucial that you state it in your answer, like IMHO, because it sounds like you do have a source. Please address my other comment also.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 2, 2019 at 23:09
  • @AlBerko -- I don't think it implies "not worth it". In a different context, I always have to explain that the line "Gam zu le-tovah" means "that, too, is for the GOOD". It does not mean "for the BEST". The BEST might mean the best of many negative options, but GOOD means "entirely in the positive area". Nov 2, 2019 at 23:38
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If we're going to be careful with the words and their connotations, נוח means "comfortable". See dictionary here: https://www.morfix.co.il/en/%D7%A0%D7%95%D7%97

We can see that from alternate forms of the root word. נח means to "come to rest", מנוחה means "comfort",נחמה means "consolation", etc.

(Strictly speaking, it's incorrect to say that נוח means "good", or "better", or "preferable", even though when Hebrew phrases end up being translated together, picking one of those words to represent a phrase including the word נוח is a good choice sometimes.)

It may be more comfortable to not have the yoke of mitzvos, of galus, and to just be part of Hashem, without an independent identity that feels painfully separate.

But alternatively, it could be consoling, pleasing, to know that one was fashioned with a mission, in Hashem's image. As it says in Pirkei Avos, (Chapter 3, 14), חביב אדם שנברא בצלם, חבה יתרה נודעת לו שנברא בצלם Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image [of G-d]

Yet ultimately, we decide that it would have been easier, but not necessarily better, for us to have remained on high, yet Hashem decided to make us work for our own benefit.

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As mentioned in the first answer, the Maharsha explains that the reason why it would have been better if man wasn’t created, is because there are more negative commandments than positive ones

However, the question still remains - if so, then why was man created in such a way, and what can we do about it?!

The answer to this question is in the Gemara itself!

The Gemara says:

עכשיו שנברא - יפשפש במעשיו. ואמרי לה: ימשמש במעשיו

Which means:

Now that he was created, he should examine or scrutinize his actions!

What does this mean?

The Anaf Yosef on Ein Yaacov explains:

The Gemara (Kiddushin 39b) says that the intention of of a Mitzvah is a Mitzvah in itself, but the intention of (most) sins is not a sin in itself!

It therefore comes out that if one is scrupulous in his actions, to always have the right intention while doing a Mitzvah - he gets two Mitzvos: the act, as well as the intention, so it would thereby come out that it is easier to have more Mitzvos than sins!

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