Yehoshua ben Levi said: All creatures of the creation were brought into being with their full stature, their full capacities, and their full beauty, as it says (Bereishis 2:1), “And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their hosts (tzevaam).” Read not tzevaam but tzivyonam (their desires).
Rashi comments on “לדעתן”: Hashem told them that they would be created and they agreed, and on “צביונם”: In the form that they chose for themselves.
Rabbeinu Bachya states that when every person is about to be created Hashem informs each of them of all the events that would happen to them, including the quality of their lives and the manner of their eventual death … including the quality of their livelihood, whether it would be plentiful or meager, whether they would be self-employed or employed by others. Every person wanted what they were shown and accepted their destiny.
Rashi states that Hashem asks each man if he wants to be created. This means, He asks them if they want to be created male or female, rich or poor, strong or weak, tall or short. And He also informs them of all the circumstances, incidents, and events that will occur to them in their lifetimes, and the quality of their life and their death — if by natural causes or an unusual death. And their livelihood, if with ease of with difficulty; if they want to be self-employed or to work for others. And in the precise way that one wants to be created, G-d creates him.
The Shaar bas Rabim further notes: Each man chooses his own form and circumstances and chooses exactly the way in which he is created; before he is born he sees, while still in Shamayim, that which is truly beneficial for him in order to be worthy, through the circumstances of his life in this world, to enter the World to Come, in accordance with his previous incarnations and based on what he needs to correct. In Shamayim, it is known what a man must achieve in this world.
The sefer Sheva Yipol Tzaddik (Rav Yitzchak Tufik) adds: Therefore, no man can complain that his fellow man was created differently from him, because he chose his own life circumstances.
When we are in the midst of a crisis or challenge, our emotional self can become overwhelmed with confusion and distress. We tend to respond to a crisis in one of three ways:
- Denial — “I cannot handle this. This situation is too difficult for me.”
- Jealousy — “Why do others have it so easy? Why can’t I have my neighbor’s life?”
- Anger — “Life is not fair. Why do I have to go through this?”
These are all normal, understandable reactions to crises. The truth is, however, that we can handle the crisis and either solve it, learn to deal with it, or learn to cope with our inability to solve it. As an analogy: Imagine a surgeon preparing to perform an experimental medical procedure for the first time. He completes his research, consults with colleagues, tests the medical equipment, and ensures that the computer’s software is operational. He feels ready and enters the operating theater. As the procedure is underway he may feel overwhelmed or lose focus, but he utilizes the calming techniques he learned during his surgical training and reminds himself that he does in fact have the training, knowledge, equipment, and ability to perform the procedure. Once he grounds himself emotionally, he is able to complete the procedure.
Let us apply this analogy to the above Gemara. When each of us was about to be created we were given the intellect, emotional abilities, stamina, and talents to handle the challenges we knew we were going to face. G-d showed us the matter that we needed to rectify and accomplish in our lives, and that we asked for, and G-d provided us with the self-worth, competence, tools, and strengths to achieve our particular mission. As we are in the thick of our challenging lives, however, we may become overwhelmed by a particular challenge and temporarily forget what we learned and feel that we cannot go on. This is the meaning of the statement in Chazal that we learned the entire Torah while in the womb and at birth an angel struck our lip and we forgot the Torah we learned. (Niddah 30b)
The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah, above, is teaching us an essential lesson, perhaps one of the most important life messages: you can succeed. You know the mission that you were sent here to accomplish, and you agreed to it before you were born. You were shown what you needed to achieve and you accepted the task. You were given the tools to complete the job. Now, you must exercise bitachon — in G-d and in yourself — and know with confidence that you can surely accomplish the task, simply because it’s been given to you. The very fact that you are facing this challenge means you can succeed in it.
The Ramban tells us that a person is not given a challenge that he cannot achieve. The Ramban comments (Shaar HaG’mul): “Hashem only tests a person whom He knows can handle the test.
The Torah states (Bereishis 1:11) “ And G-d said: “Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit tree bearing fruit after its kind whose seed is within it upon the earth,” and it was so. Rashi comments on the words “פרי עץ — fruit tree” that the flavor of the bark should have been like the flavor of the fruit. But the earth did not do so. Rather, the verse states: “And the earth brought forth trees yielding fruit,” but the tree itself was not fruit. Does a tree have free will that it can decide whether to fulfill Hashem’s will? A tree represents process of production and fruit represents goal, or purpose. The tree, with its systems of photosynthesis, xylem, and phloem is the production machinery that eventually produces the result: the fruit. Hashem commanded that the process and the product “taste the same.” Hashem intended that the taste, the essence, should be experienced just as much during the process of production as in the result. In other words, Hashem intended that we understand the process of becoming who we are supposed to become is as meaningful as the result or eventual outcome — being a fully developed person. However, the tree did not grasp this.
In this world we see the process of becoming who we are supposed to become as a painful process. It tastes to us as bitter as the bark of the tree. We see the process of ordeals and crises as separate and distinct from the eventual result. Therefore, in this world, we see the process as bitter and the result as sweet. We fail to see the connection between process and result. We fail to see that in order to taste the sweet fruit we have to go through the process of producing the fruit and becoming the person we are supposed to become. In this world, we experience the pain of challenge and ordeals as bitterness and darkness. We are unable to appreciate that these pains are actually birth pains — of the self we are destined to become. We fail to realize that the pain and the result are one and the same.
Gan Eden — the goal of our lives — is comprised of trees to teach us that destiny is achieved through a combination of production and result: bark and fruit. When we get to Gan Eden — the World of Truth — we will then see the truth, that each of us had to go through crises and ordeals in order to become the person we have become. In Gan Eden we will realize that the bitter process of growth is as tasty as the fruit. We will say, “Now I realize why I had to go through that ordeal. That was what shaped me into the person I have become.”
According to the Gemara cited above (Rosh Hashanah 11a) each person knew this when he was in the World of Souls and agreed to undertake the mission of becoming himself. Our task is to realize and integrate this while in this world — and to seek the taste of fruit in the bitterness of the process.
The greatest gift that Hashem has given us is to be able to grow closer to Him, as David HaMelech says (Tehillim 73:28) “But as for me, the nearness of G-d is my good.” We have the opportunity to come closer to Hashem by acting like Him. This is how we must approach each challenge, as difficult as it may seem when we are going through it. It is up to us to live with the awareness that the challenge being sent to us is meant to bring out a character trait within us that will help us better emulate Hashem and achieve our destiny.