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Rabbi Manis Friedman has (in my opinion) a very beautiful and logical teaching as to why God created this world. He says (although I might be mixing my own ideas in here) that God created this world in which we have free will to choose to serve Him or not to serve Him, (as apposed to angels who cannot deny God's presence in the heavens and thus praise him without real free will) and that when we choose for God, and serve Him, here in this lowly world in which His presence isn't as obvious, then this is truly praiseworthy. And that when enough people (how many?) serve God through free will, that the purpose of this world is fullfilled and the Moshiach comes.

What are the sources for this idea? Rabbi Manis Friedman is a Chabad rabbi so perhaps it's from the Tanya, or are there earlier sources for this idea like the Talmud or Midrash?

One source I could think of that indirectly suggest this idea is:

ואילו רשע או צדיק לא קאמר כדר' חנינא דא"ר חנינא הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים שנאמר (דברים י, יב) ועתה ישראל מה ה' אלהיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה וגו'

The Gemara notes: But this angel does not say: Will he be wicked or righteous? This is in accordance with a statement of Rabbi Ḥanina, as Rabbi Ḥanina said: Everything is in the hand of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven. People have free will to serve God or not, as it is stated: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you other than to fear the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 10:12). The fact that God asks of the Jewish people to fear Him indicates that it is a person’s choice to do so.

Niddah 16b:13

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    The Torah clearly says that G-d let us choose out of two possibilities: life/death: See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil: in that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments: then thou shalt live and multiply - Deut. 30:15-17
    – Shmuel
    Jan 21, 2023 at 21:27
  • I don't believe this concept exists in the Torah or Tanakh. Everything appears to be made for its own sake. And we have seen that God would rather wipe out all of humanity rather than letting "free will" run completely unchecked. It also appears to me very specifically within Tanakh that animals have free will as well, and many ancient Judean sources (possibly even including Torah) have the impression that Angels also have free will
    – Aaron
    Apr 18, 2023 at 22:12

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Thanks for the great question. I have watched much Rabbi Friedman and have spent countless hours collecting sources on the topics he lectures on.

I don't really need to bring those, because the general way you've stated the question isn't really something that he specifically says (although he does focus on it), but a general principle of Torah.

The purpose of free will is so that we can keep Torah, and your source demonstrates that well. As the Rambam puts it in Hilchot Teshuva 5:

Every person has the ability to lead a good life and be a tzaddik or to lead an evil life and be a rasha... This is a fundamental concept underlying the whole Torah and its mitzvot. Moshe said (Nitzavim, D'varim 30:15), "Look, I have put before you today a choice of life and good or death and evil." He said as well (Re'eh, D'varim 11:26-28), "See, I put before you today blessings and curses; blessings if you obey... and curses if you do not obey God's Mitzvot..." In other words, you have the ability to choose between all types of human action, whether good or bad... If this were not so what place would there be for the Torah; with what justice could God punish the rasha or reward the tzaddik if each does not have perfectly free will to choose his own path?

The 613 mitzvot are the Divine service, as it is written in Dvarim 10:12-13:

וְלַֽעֲבֹד֙ אֶת־ה' אלוקיך בְּכׇל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכׇל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃ לִשְׁמֹ֞ר אֶת־מִצְוֺ֤ת ה' וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם

to serve your God with all your heart and soul, keeping Hashem’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today

See also Ibn Ezra on the passage we say in Shema about serving Hashem. See also this Rabbeinu Bayha on how we were created only to serve Hashem.

The Torah is the "instruction" (that's what the word torah means) in serving God. It is essentially synonymous with Mitzva (Shemot 24:12):

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה עֲלֵ֥ה אֵלַ֛י הָהָ֖רָה וֶהְיֵה־שָׁ֑ם וְאֶתְּנָ֨ה לְךָ֜ אֶת־לֻחֹ֣ת הָאֶ֗בֶן וְהַתּוֹרָה֙ וְהַמִּצְוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר כָּתַ֖בְתִּי לְהוֹרֹתָֽם׃

Hashem said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and wait there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the Torah and mitzvot which I have inscribed to instruct them [same root as תורה].”

Torah study itself is also a mitzva, a Divine service. Prayer, another mitzva according to some, is the specific meaning of Avodah, service, whereas the rest of the Mitzvot are the more general meaning. As Rambam puts it in Sefer HaMitzvot:

הוא שצונו לעבדו, וכבר נכפל זה הצווי פעמים באמרו ועבדתם את ה' אלקיכם, ואמר ואותו תעבודו. ואע"פ שזה הצווי הוא גם כן מהצוויים הכוללים כמו שביארנו בשורש ד', הנה יש בו יחוד אחר שהוא צווי לתפלה.

The 5th mitzvah is that we are commanded to serve G‑d (blessed be He). This commandment is repeated twice. It is stated: "And you shall serve G‑d, your L‑rd" (Exodus 23:25). And it is also stated: "And you shall serve Him" (Deuteronomy 13:5). Although this commandment is of a general nature, as explained in the Fourth Principle, [and apparently should not be included in the count of the 613 mitzvos,] nevertheless it has a specific quality, since it is the commandment to pray.

Prayer is service of the heart.

All the above now connects back to free will in the pasuk Shmuel quoted in his comment:

See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil: in that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments (Devarim 30:15-17)

and ibid 19:

בָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּחַיִּ֔ים

Choose life!


Regarding Moshiach, Rabbi Friedman's main position is that of the gemara in Sanhedrin 98a, that the Mosiach will come

בדור שכולו זכאי או כולו חייב

in a generation that is entirely innocent or entirely guilty

He happens to be very optimistic about this speculative point, as was the Lubavitcher Rebbe T'Zl (and I remember a beautiful lecture by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen on this too), that our generation is indeed כולו זכאי and there are beautiful explanations of why. I have heard him mention that maybe it means most of the world - he is an optimist, as I said!

As for the purpose of the world, yes, that's one way to put it. Sandhendrin 98b:

אמר רב לא אברי עלמא אלא לדוד ושמואל אמר למשה ורבי יוחנן אמר למשיח

Rav says: The world was created only for David. And Shmuel says for Moshe. And Rabbi Yoḥanan says: for Moshiach.

The idea Rabbi Friedman discusses a lot regarding this is based on a couple of midrashim that say the following (e.g. Midrash Tanchuma Nasso 16:1)

נִתְאַוָּה שֶׁיְּהֵא לוֹ דִּירָה בַּתַּחְתּוֹנִים

Hashem desired a dwelling place in the lowest [world]

This is first brought in Tanya and developed heavily in Chabad writings and is very connected to the general idea you've brought here. It is the beginning of a beautiful focus in thought on what the world and we mean to Hashem, i.e. a Torah on looking at things from His point of view. If you wish to learn more about it, Rabbi Friedman has literally thousands of videos on it, and is great at explaining them.

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    It’s worth noting that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z”l poskined that our generation was clearly considered to be כולו זכאי because the vast majority of people fall into the category of תנוק שנשבע, like a Jewish baby that was kidnapped at birth and had no knowledge of true Jewish life and teachings. Such individuals are not included in the calculation of merit or obligation for the generation. Jan 22, 2023 at 3:49
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    The Rebbe was saying in the 1980’s that his father-in-law, the previous Rebbe had said, “we’ve polished all the buttons, etc.” The Rebbe went on to emphasize in that context that if you continue to polish something excessively, it can become diminished/damaged. That’s the difference between having lived it while this was happening. I heard with my own ears what Manis was saying (like the Elul @ Tiferes in Morristown after the first stroke in 1992). The 3rd of Tammuz 1994 broke many people. But the Rebbe asked us to be stubborn & not give up. Even if it is just 10, or even one! A big request… Jan 22, 2023 at 20:52
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    Regarding Reb Moshe, that is why the Rebbe asked him to be the leading Posek for Chabad in the beginning. Reb Moshe declined saying that he couldn’t abandon his own people because without him, they would have nothing. You have to remember, this is all shortly following the Holocaust. All the Jewish communities were struggling to survive and rebuild (especially those here in America). Jan 22, 2023 at 20:56
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    Don’t be jealous. You live in an even more significant time according to the Rebbe’s teachings. We live now in the era known as “the Days of Moshiach”. That is a specific tekufah discussed throughout the Torah and particularly in Chabad Chassidut. Like us all, you are living it. That is your merit and the merit of all your ancestors before you. Jan 22, 2023 at 21:13
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    @RabbiKaii The source for the statement of Rav Moshe is from Sefer Pirkei Teshuva v’Geulah by HaRav Shalom Shachne Zohn, ztl under the section: כולו זכאי או כולו חייב. Rav Zohn states there that he personally heard this from both Rav Elchonon Wasserman zl and Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl. If you have trouble finding that book, it is quoted in the back of מבשר טוב by HaRav Shalom Dovber HaLevi Volpo. May 17 at 15:36

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