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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?

  • The title of the question is mistaking – kouty Nov 1 '19 at 12:44
  • נחזיק טובה לאבותנו שאלמלא לא חטאו... – kouty Nov 1 '19 at 12:45
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    I edited your title to more accurately reflect your question - please check to make sure I understood you correctly. – DonielF Nov 1 '19 at 14:42
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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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    So much for not weighing the mitzvos against each other (Avos 2:1). – DonielF Nov 1 '19 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 '19 at 20:04
  • But maybe those 248 are worth more than those 365, even though they’re fewer. – DonielF Nov 1 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 at 17:50
  • @AlBerko -- My source is my head. I hope that's enough. :-) – Maurice Mizrahi Nov 2 '19 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 '19 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". – Maurice Mizrahi Nov 2 '19 at 23:38

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