If not Eternal, Life is Worthless

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Tzidduk Hadin—recited after a burial—includes this phrase: 

“Whether man lives a year or 1000 years, of what benefit is it to him? He is as one who never lived. Blessed be the True Judge, Who brings death and resurrects.” 

This statement has 2 parts: an evaluation of man as worthless, and a promise of resurrection. Even if living 1000 years, man is worthless if he experiences no afterlife. There is no worth to his temporary existence. He is equal to one who never existed. That’s some statement. It’s difficult to grasp any comparison between one who lived, and one who did not. How does the “temporal” nature of existence eliminate all value and render it worthless? Why must one be eternal to have any value? 

Torah says the only real value is knowledge of God, i.e., studying His wisdom. Only in this act of pondering God’s brilliance, is there any value in existence. Rashi teaches, “God made Earth only if man partakes of Torah and its wisdom. Otherwise, God would revert Earth back to chaos” (Avos 2:8). Thus, Earth is worthless if no man uses it to study God. In such a case, both man and Earth become futile, explaining why the Flood engulfed Earth for man’s abandonment of God.

We must know this: perception of wisdom is not a momentary phenomenon, but a sustained exploration. Perception of wisdom is not merely grasping an isolated point, but in seeing how one idea leads to another, how many ideas are dependent on others and otherwise interrelated, and in learning more and more principles where one perceives an even greater picture of reality. This is a continuum, a process. And the very design of wisdom that it works this way is itself astonishing. 

Now, what if man is terminated body and soul: was there value during life? Tzidduk Hadin above says, “No.” The good is when a being has an eternal engagement in wisdom. If the exploration of God’s wisdom comes to an end, even while alive, this person is not involved in an “eternal” exploration. This quote above is unconditional, so even while alive, it indicates that all one’s accomplishments and good deeds are worthless, as he will eventually disappear from existence. Certainly once one dies, there is no longer a “him” about whom to say, “he” had a good life….the “he” no longer exists. It is as if he never existed. This is a vital idea, so grasp it with certainty.

But, when does one engage in a valuable existence? When he does so eternally. That is why the quote above concludes “Blessed be the True Judge, Who brings death and resurrects.” Resurrection—afterlife—is what qualifies one’s existence as worthwhile. God grants man an eternity of exploring God’s wisdom in the Afterlife. Thus, a life on Earth engaged in Torah is worthwhile because such a life is granted eternity. 

The very nature of that goodness which God made for man, is eternal: Good equates only to what lasts. How good is a pleasure that lasts 1 second, or a vacation that lasts 5 seconds? We see that “duration” is essential to anything good. The greatest good is that which is eternal: the endless search for wisdom, realizing new truths, questioning, and thinking. If man engages in wisdom, he earns an eternity in exploring God’s wisdom. But if one does not engage in wisdom, not only does he forfeit an eternal existence, but his earthly life too is worthless: “Whether man lives a year or 1000 years, of what benefit is it to him? He is as one who never lived.”