Q: The gemara says there was a dispute between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel whether it’s better for a man to have been created or not to have been created. What does that mean?
A: If you learn Tanach or you look through the davening you’ll find many places where we express to Hakadosh Baruch Hu gratitude for making us. What are we grateful for? The answer is there’s no question that to be created is a great gift, with a capital G. It’s a great gift. You’re lucky to be alive.
It’s a great gift. You’re lucky to be alive
The Lomzer mashgiach once saw a sad boy, a sad yeshiva man, so he took him in the corner and grabbed him by the lapel and for a half hour he spoke to him. He said, "You lucky fellow, how fortunate you are! Do you realize how wealthy you are?" And the boy was waiting to hear the good news. At the end of the half hour the mashgiach said, "You are alive!"
Ah, foolish human beings wondering [about] the wealth of life. You have it only once. And people are sitting and asking if it’s better not to be alive? There’s nothing more insane than that... We should be happy we’re alive. The mere fact of being alive is a very, very, very, very, great happiness.
But Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel argued about something else. If we were asked before we were born, in the state of souls, should we be born? So they decided it’s better not to have been created than to be born and to waste the opportunity. It’s like a man who is being offered a big loan by the president of the bank; you’re walking by the bank and the president comes out, grabs you and says, "Come in, I like your face, I’m going to offer you a hundred thousand dollars loan without collateral for five years."
If you’re smart you’ll say, “My friend, I’d love to take it but I have to pay it back. If I don’t have to pay it back, I’ll take it.”
“Oh no,” he says,”You have to pay it back, and you have to pay interest too. I’m a gentile, I can take interest from you.”
This is the greatest kindliness: to be in this world
Hakadosh Baruch Hu is not a Jew. Hakadosh Baruch Hu takes interest. And if He lets you live He expects you to pay for it. You have to accomplish something. So Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel decided that according to the minds of human beings it doesn’t pay to accept this loan.
What does Hakadosh Baruch Hu do? He says I’m not asking you. "Al karkecha atah notzer -- You’re created against your will." I’m not asking for your advice because I know what’s better. You’re talking as human beings talk. According to human minds, that’s the decision. But Hakadosh Baruch Hu does a kindness by doing what? By creating us. Because olam chesed yibaneh, the world was created for kindliness and this is the greatest kindliness, to be in this world.
Bais Shammai and bais Hillel are only arguing from a human viewpoint. How should you say like a human? A human shouldn’t accept the opportunity to be born. But Hakadosh Baruch Hu steps in and says I know better. — Repenting in Happiness (#17)