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Did You Ask to Be Born?

Did You Ask to Be Born?

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Once upon a time there was a village full of disgruntled people. All day long they walked around with these sour faces, each bemoaning his troubles, each jealous of her neighbor's successes.

One day, a wise old man arrived in the village. He assembled them all in the village square and said to them: "I want you each to go and bring your most precious possession, the thing you cherish most in your life, and place it here in middle of the square." Soon there was a large pile of bundles and packages, of all shapes and sizes, in the center of the village square.

"Now," instructed the wise man, "you may each select for yourselves any one of these gifts. The choice is yours--take any package you desire."

Every man, woman and child in the village did exactly the same thing. Each chose his own bundle.


The Torah, as we all know, begins at the beginning, describing G‑d's creation of the heavens and the earth, the continents and the oceans, vegetation and animal life. Then, in its 26th verse, we proceed to the creation of man. "And G‑d said," we read, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..."

G‑d is asking a council of human souls if He should create the human soul! Let us? Up to this point--and from here on through the rest of the Torah--G‑d is spoken of as the ultimate singularity. He is the Boss, the exclusive source and mover of all. But in this single instance, there is an "us," a choir of opinions, a supernal boardroom before which the Creator places a proposal and asks for approval.

With whom did G‑d consult when He desired to create the human being? Our sages offer a number of explanations. One is that G‑d asked the angels, so as to temper their later criticisms of the failings of mortal man. Another explanation is that G‑d was involving all elements of the universe, or all aspects of His infinitely potentialed being, in the formation of the multi-faceted soul of man. All these explanations, of course, raise at least as many questions as they answer. Indeed, it is regarding this particular verse that the sages have stated: "The Torah says it thus; anyone who wishes to misunderstand, let him misunderstand..." Obviously, there is an important message here to us--important enough that the Torah insists on this particular phraseology despite the fact that it allows for (encourages?) misunderstanding.

But there is one interpretation of this verse which presents us with a conundrum of a paradox. The Midrash offers the following explanation: "With whom did He consult? With the souls of the righteous."1 G‑d is asking a council of human souls if He should create the human soul!

The plot thickens. Who are these "righteous" (tzaddikim) with whom G‑d consulted? According to the prophet Isaiah, "Your people are all tzaddikim."2 We each posses the soul of a tzaddik (regardless of the extent to which we allow its expression). In other words, G‑d asked each and every one of us if we desire to be created, if we choose to accept the challenge of earthly life. Only then did He proceed to create us.


If asking a soul whether it wants to be created sounds like a catch-22, this paradox in fact resolves a much deeper paradox--the paradox of divine decree and human choice.

G‑d is forever telling us what to do G‑d is forever telling us what to do. Indeed, the very word Torah means "instruction," and that's basically what the Torah is: a series of instructions from on high. And yet we are told that "a fundamental principle of the Torah" is that "freedom of choice has been granted to man."3 What exactly are our choices, if G‑d is constantly instructing us?

The question runs deeper. Let us assume that, in any given situation, under any set of circumstances, the choice is ours as to how we should act. But what kind of choice is this, if no one asked us if we want to be in that situation and under those set of circumstances in the first place? What kind of "choice" is there, if we didn't choose whether or not we should be presented with that choice?

So the Torah reveals to us this amazing secret: that ultimate choice was made by us, before we even existed. Before G‑d emanated your soul and breathed it into your body, you were asked if you should be. So in every situation in which you find yourself, in every challenge you face in your life--you are there because you chose to be placed in that life.


The life we have is the life we want We go through life complaining, "I didn't ask to be born...!" But a thousand times a day we refute that claim. With countless choices and actions, we affirm that the life we have is the life we want.

Of course we do. After all, we chose it.

Footnotes
1.
Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 8:7.
3.
Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuvah 5:1.
By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For Chabad.org June 13, 2017

Re: validating hierarchies In Jewish thought there is an important distinction between what we say to ourselves, and what we say to others. If something bad happens to me, it is proper to say "I probably deserved it." If the same thing happens to someone else, that is the last thing we should say.
Likewise, it is correct to say I chose to be born, with all the challenges that come with that. It is wrong to tell another person "you are supposed to be downtrodden by fate." Rather, we must do all we can to help raise another person up. Reply

Nathan Brazil June 15, 2017
in response to Rabbi Shmary Brownstein:

wow! This response is amazing, rabbi! And it comes to resolve many other questions I had relating the implications of the terms I used on my former comment questions... Now I know I was wrong on some of my skeptical observations. Rabbi, I must once more apologize for my suspicions about the sincerity and righteousness of the jewish rabbinic way of look to the issues of justice. Now I love the jewish culture even more. I'm just a Zera Israel yet learning all the deep concepts of the Torah, following the jewish feith as a Ben Noach yet, in my way thru teshuva.
That's it!
Thank you once again for the amazing feedback! :)
Shalom aleichem al qol Israel v'al Yerushalaim! Reply

Nathan Brazil June 3, 2017

Well, firstly I apologize if my comment will provoke annoyance in any Jewish community. I love the Torah and much of the Jewish literature. But the concept of "asking G'd to be born" is just the most absurd of all... And it seems to me a conceptual artifice to validate systems of political economic segregation, depriving human being of the right to Life with inalienable dignity since birth. This concept makes background to all forms of hiearchization and submission of poor before the rich, "by G'd's will". If jews must always remember that they were slaves to Mitzraim, and are called by G'd to be a light for the world in the sense of dismatle the structures of earthly and economic slavery (not only these, but also spiritual / immaterial exploitation), why then do you say the one person's soul asks to be born and to pass thru all the difficulties he / she has? One contradicts the other, and contradicts even the most advanced neuro-science recent findings. Please, feedback me with answer Reply

marsha drucker cincinnati January 15, 2017

free will is a responsibility: whether one exercises "it" or not, as a partner w Hashem... Reply

Hilda Maria Arias Cao Orlando October 22, 2016

Then, if we chose this life, why didn't we opted to be ángels rather than humans? Angels are always closer to G-d's presence, listening to His voice, good communication, no complaints, happy life, no sorrows, no pain, no suffering, no regrets. We are here, without listening to His voice. Even Abraham could talk and listen directly His voice in the past. Aren't angels having God's life breath, too? What's the difference between ángels and humans, then? Animals have soul and they praíse G'd and I am sure they all see Him and hear His voice, too! I would have rather made the line with the ones choosing to live in Heaven as angels. After all, Heaven is more beautiful since is where G-d resides in a Full Time basis. We all want to be in Heaven after leaving this world. Won't we? Reply

Anonymous Dubai March 16, 2016

I am sorry it doesn't make any sense at all.
I don't remember asking to here. Everyday is like someone and God is doing me a favour when I didn't even ask to be here and optionally for favours? I feel bad everyday because my boss is condescending and God doesn't do anything about it as I just need to be thankful for everything even the boss who hates god and puts me down on a daily basis. I don't understand why should I be here? Why should be an example? I didn't ask to be here Reply

Gary W. Harper Saylorsburg, PA March 9, 2015

Each of us has chosen to be a spark separate of the inclusive, single Divine Light. Each of us has chosen this separation, for but a little while.

If everyone could remember their birth, their time in the womb, and all that came before, all of that which cannot be but poorly described in words, this choice of ours, would be perfectly clear to all of them. We always were; we just could not perceive of ourselves as selves separate of the greater One, until we made the freewill decision to come down.

And you all actually do remember, deep down inside. The distractions of the world, its newness to you, made you forget it all consciously, almost instantly, upon your birth. But you contain it, deep down inside -- What you are, and where you came from.

Some made the conscious decision, at birth, to remember...

The day shall come, when all will return. Then, it will be the World to Come. Reply

Meira Shana San Diego via chabadofcary.org February 26, 2015

S NJ Gentle hugs sent your way - hope the snow doesn't make delivery difficult.

I like imaging that I was a tiny 'angel' looking for my parents. Knowing how I would like to be when I grow up meant choosing parents that would give me that combo needed. So, in spite of knowing that my parents would not stay together, I was born and raised until 4 years old with 2 parents. But the father wasn't interested so my mom raised my brother and me until we were out of the house.

Lucky us! Brother and I got to have only one parent's boobamisahs! At 77 yo, I'll become a Bat Mitzvah in May - thanks to my mom z"l.

Life has been tough - but I succeeded far more than anyone had a right to expect.

I am grateful ... and hope that you, too, S NJ, will find something to do that you love and will flourish with Joy and Peace in your heart. You are precious and free. Reply

Avrom Buffalo February 25, 2015

You say that your father abandoned you.

You have no idea how lucky you were! You have no idea how much worse your dad could have done to you.

Where do you get off telling poor S that s/he indulges in self-pity?
Have you ever heard the saying,"I don't go where I'm not wanted."
And if you're not wanted Anywhere, doesn't it seem a sin to hang around?

I am so glad that S in NJ loves life so much that s/he has stayed in this world in spite of his/her having been early infused with the insidious assumption that s/he is an intruder in this world, without any right to be here.

That's staying power. That's not self-pity. That is self-assertion, and more power to him/her.

I want S to know that s/he is welcome here and had every right to be born. And yes, S, before you were born, you did choose to come here, and you were right to come here. Now stay and fulfill your mission. GD loves you.

An exercise: for one week, greet everyone, even strangers, even frowners.

Note the smiles. Reply

Aaron Ainbinder Denver, c via chabadsouthdenver.com February 10, 2015

To Chaim in Cincinatti I have no idea what S in NJ is, or has been, going through. All I offered was what I could. Your post sounds like you know S in NJ well, or well enough to know what he or she is struggling with. I am glad that someone either knows this person or reached out to him or her through Chabad. S's original post sounded suicidal to me, so I passed it along to a Chabad rabbi that I know.

And yes, Chaim, sometimes life is a pain in the backside. Sometimes it is that way all of the time for some people. A quote from one of Bob Dylan's songs: "You don't know the hurt I've suffered, nor the pain I rised above. And I don't know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love, and it makes me feel so sorry."

Don't throw stones, boychek. You don't know what I have faced and risen above and gone through. I am scarred but not shattered. And I am not alone and neither is any other Jew as long as someone cares and cares enough to reach out. Reply

Anonymous Rochester via chabadrochester.com February 10, 2015

I ask the same question and part of the answer is in a realistic sense, my parents made that choice. And my children at least my eldest does not believe he asked to be born. My husband and I made that choice for him as did my parents for me. I still feel within that there is part of me that feels the miracle or "spark" of birth is something we cannot really explain, although my scientific son would beg to differ. Did my soul ask??? But what happens after birth, those who have miserable childhoods or hopefully good childhoods are basically human decisions or perhapys physcial or hormonal decisions or whatever. My son when a child said if God created the world he then backed off and left the rest to us. Now he doesn't believe in God. I can see how he could think that way especially with the terrible injustices in the world. On the other hand life is not so black and white and a spiritual belief gets many thru the hardships. I don't understand those who create the hardships for others Reply

Chaim Cinncinnati February 6, 2015

To Aaron Ainbinder and to S in NJ You spoke to S in NJ as if life were merely "a pain in the" rear, and you added, "sometimes".

No. For S, life is constant hell..

After being raged at every night from age one at by a father who treats you like a punching bag, accuses you of being bad, clearly thinking you are an intruder in the world, it is reasonable to assume that strangers will be even more hostile to you, more apt to murder you. Even your mother failed to protect you. You learn early to numb out so you don't even know that you are terrified. You don't know it is fear that produces your queasy stomach or headaches or chest pains. You were a feisty child, so your father hit you even longer, radiating his hatred the whole time. More than twice he tried to kill you, injuring you painfully. Your fear shows in your face; you have no playmates or love, or joy, or any sense you have anything to offer anyone.

S in NJ is brave. S/He deserves praise for staying alive. And s/he does have something to offer others. Reply

Anonymous Tampa February 6, 2015

Anonymous from 2 October 2013 Again. I am not going to rehash what I wrote back in Oct 2013. I would have remembered if I was asked to be born. Looking down from a wonderful place, I would not have wanted to be born on this earth. Since I first posted my first post life has not been any better. One thing is I am an observant Jew, however it is living hell with out the flames to work for the goyim of this country. I have been rejected for promotion, because I refuse to work from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Try to prove that in a court of law in Florida run by corrupted goyim. I am seeking to get training in a new profession and I already have a college degree. I am also a disabled veteran. It will take some time to get through my training. Tampa does not have a large Jewish Community and I would gladly move if I could sell my house (after my technical training is over). The short and skinny is I am suffering persecution at work for being a Jew. Reply

Sophie Breckenridge February 2, 2015

Classic Jewish doctrine says that our souls return and return Some who died in the Shoah requested that in their next life they not be Jews. Their requests were granted--and that explains why a certain rabbi received so many letters--enough to fill a book. Each letter was from a gentile who was plagued with nightmares about--the Shoah.

The fact of this book makes me think that I am not imagining how I became an American Jew.

I was at home, minding my own business, when suddenly I was a toddler, about age two, in a city that seemed to be Warsaw. A man in uniform walked up to me and shot me in the face. First the pain. Then the disorientation. Then I was at home, still disoriented, wondering what had just happened.

It feels to me as if this...this vision? Whatever it was...as if it really happened, and that when I got over the disorientation, I asked to be born far away in America where I would be safe.

And I was born in America, just before Pearl Harbor. It turned out that I was not safe. Well, at least I got part of what I asked for. Reply

Aaron Ainbinder Denver, CO via chabadsouthdenver.com January 17, 2015

Tired of Living? - S in NJ I know I did not ask to be born. I don't want this life, I just don't want to be here. I have nothing good in my life. I have nothing to live for. I pray to G-D to take me.
Posted By S., NJ

Sounds bleak, S in NJ, and I feel your pain, man. Sometimes life is, indeed, a pain in the backside and all we can see is a whole lot of nothing. Been there now and again. All i can share is what works for me, and that is to ask G-d to show me someone I can help today. There is something about being of service to another which relieves my self-pity, self-pity which is usually greatly out of perspective. But life is tough sometimes, to be sure. I am doing solo full-time caregiving for my elderly stroke patient Mom, with almost no support, Jewish or otherwise. Life's tough sometimes, but G-d is always a thought away. After all, man, I'm his kid. My Dad abandoned me but G-d won't. Go find someone to help, and go now. Run to do a mitzvah, like Abraham did with the 3 angels. You are needed. Reply

Anonymous NYS via chabadrochester.com January 15, 2015

Is it that simple? Yes, Life is precious. But did the souls of the terrorists and potential terrorist we have right now ask why they should be born? They were little babies and immediately (or later) put in a situation to want to kill others. It is too complicated for a simple explanation. Yes perhaps we were all born with goodness, but in this world there are many who are primed from day one to be evil. I certainly didn't ask they should be born to cause havoc and death in this world! Did their souls ask to be born so they could do evil? Reply

David Denver January 15, 2015

Indeed, we may pray for the wrong things.

But Gd demands that we make our own moral choices.

So our prayers should always add, "If it is Your Will!". Reply

Steve Denver January 15, 2015

We do not own ourselves. Gd owns us. Gd owns our bodies and our lives. We have no right to destroy something that belongs to someone else.

But you were born from an egg and a sperm. You were born from the sperm that swam the fastest. If you didn't want to be born, why did you swim so fast? The other sperms didn't want to be born. They swam slower. The very fact that you WERE born shows you wanted it badly enough to swim fast enough to win the race.

After you were born, you must have received some terrible hurt. So did I. So did many of us. I feel for your hurt. I feel it more than you can ever know.

I ask that Gd may heal your pain. Then you will be able to enjoy life.

Gd bless you. Reply

Peter Spiro WA January 14, 2015

Not defined by circumstances We don't always choose the circumstances of or lives. And for good or bad we are forced to accept a lot of things we might otherwise reject.

But we can always choose to live by Grace or to rebel. Who we are is not determined by the circumstances but by our choosing.

Peace and love to all. Reply

Joseph Ct. January 14, 2015

Asked.. Hey S. I pray Hashem keeps ya around long enough to see even strangers care about ya! Reply

Adrian MD, USA January 14, 2015

Come on Jews I just read some of your comments and I am dumbfounded. (S) in New Jersey, blessed are you to endure afflictions from Hashem. Doesn't a parent only afflict the ones who's potential exist? When your secular self is afflicted, the soul grows stronger. The flesh is of the world and the soul is not. So, most often when the flesh is satisfied, the soul is distant from Hashem. Conversely, when the flesh is afflicted, the soul is at it's closest to the Almighty. Thank G-d for your afflictions and adversities, for at that time you are great. Secular prosperity is your enemy my friend. Doesn't affliction and prosperity come from the same place? Than how can affliction be detest? Affliction is what keep our people pious and holy. In history, when our flesh is fattened, we historically have sinned against Hashem. Look at our uniting King David. Only when he became the world's most powerful king did his arrogance consume him. But, Hashem's spirit upon caused him to recognize his sin and repent. Reply