"You live against your will, and you will die against your will…" (Avot 4:22)

Why "Against your will"?

The natural tendency of the soul is to rise upward, like a flame, and it is trapped in the body, against its will and against its nature.

This natural tendency of the soul to be separate from the body is expressed in the birth of a baby - the soul does not want to enter the body, and therefore the Mishnah states, "You were born against your will", and also during this life, as the Mishnah continues, "you live against your will". Once the body had been purified, the soul…is elevated through the body…

What, then, is the meaning of, "you will die against your will?" One explanation is that the soul acquires this feeling after it has been occupied with purifying and elevating the body. Once the body had been purified, the soul becomes its recipient, and is elevated through the body. For this reason it no longer wishes to part from it. (Nevertheless, as long as a person has not reached this level, of him the Mishnah states, "you live against your will".) [Rabbi Sholom-Dovber Shneersohn, Maamarim 5649, p. 233]

"For My Glory I Created Him"

You live against your will - as far as man is concerned, it would have been preferable had he not been created. This being the case, why did G‑d create man? He wanted G‑dliness to be known specifically through material things…

G‑d created man for His glory, as the verse states, "For My glory I created him". As our Sages teach, G‑d wanted a "dwelling place in the lower worlds". That is, He wanted G‑dliness to be known specifically through material things, and for this purpose He created mankind.

Everything in the world was created for mankind, and when a person eats or drinks, occupies himself with business, and then learns Torah and prays, he elevates the material world to G‑dliness. When he discusses Torah, or prays, he also attaches himself to G‑d, and everything becomes imbued with divinity. [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Ma'amarei Admor HaZaken on Torah, p. 738 (3)]

Relating to This World

You live against your will - all the things a man uses in this world for his bodily needs should be treated as against his will, and as significant. They should not be used willingly to give pleasure and delight. [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Likutei Torah, Shir HaShirim 33d (3)]

When the soul recognizes the advantages of the physical body, it does not wish to part from it - i.e. "you will die against your will" - and this feeling is genuine. So too, a person should genuinely feel "you live against your will"- his delight should be in G‑dly matters, and not in physical pleasures. Those things which are necessary for his existence in this world should not be used to fulfill his natural physical appetites. Rather they should be treated as only necessary, as if he is forced to use them, as the Mishnah states "you live against your will". [Rabbi Yosef-Yitzchak Shneersohn, Maamarim 5696 p. 133 (3)]

The Service of "Shov"

There are two aspects of Divine Service:

One aspect is the passionate desire of the soul to strive upward with intense, burning love and cleave to the Creator, even though this might mean parting from the physical body. This love is so intense that the physical heart and body cannot contain it. This is called "ratzo", Hebrew for "running". When a person nullifies his will to G‑d's…this causes in him a powerful will to live…

The second aspect is the opposite of the first - the soul's decision to return and fulfill its mission in the physical body and the world. This service draws down G‑dliness into "vessels" in this world through Torah and mitzvot. This is called "shov", meaning "returning", about which the Mishnah states you live against your will in the physical body, in order to bring about a revelation of G‑dly light from its source Above into this world through the practical performance of the mitzvot. [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Torah Or 2a; 25b (3)]

In Tanya (chapter 50) it is written that every Jew is bound to move in both directions - ratzo and shov.

Realizing that the body is an exile and a prison of the soul, the will of the soul is aroused to part from the body and blend and merge into G‑dliness (ratzo). However, the knowledge that G‑d's intention in creating the world and placing the soul in the body is to make a dwelling place in the lower worlds, causes him to return - shov - and remain in this world: "You live against your will".

Nevertheless, "you will die against your will". For when a person nullifies his will to G‑d's and does not seek his own benefit in this world, rather seeking to fulfill G‑d's ultimate purpose in creating the world, this causes in him a powerful will to live. For such a person, the departure of his soul from his body, and the consequent termination of his service of G‑d in this world, is very difficult, hence "you will die against your will". [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot,vol. 4, p.1218 (3)]