Candles: 6:07 p.m.
Torah: Gen. 1:1-6:8
Haftorah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10
Havdalah: 7:06 p.m.
The beginning of our Torah readings with Bereshit on the first Shabbat following the intensive festival period of Rosh HaShanah through Simchat Torah is more than a calendrical accident. The first chapters of Genesis serve as a resounding confirmation of the true nature of the human being and what God expects of him.
In his groundbreaking work, “Family Redeemed,” my teacher and mentor Rav J.B. Soloveitchik defines two aspects of the human being emanating from each of the first two chapters of Genesis. The first chapter is a majestic description of Creation in the Six Days (or epochs), with the human emerging as an integral aspect of Creation’s evolutionary process. The human may be he highest expression of this process, emerging as he does towards the conclusion of the Sixth Day, after the earth has “brought forth every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles and wild beasts of every kind” [Genesis 1:24], but he is and remains part and parcel of “creature-hood” nevertheless.
This becomes patently clear when the Almighty declares, “Let us make the human being in our image and in our likeness” [Gen. 1:26]. Ramban (Nachmanides, in 12th-century Spain) interprets this to be God addressing the animals and beasts: The human being will be subject to the same physical strengths and limitations, to the same cycle of birth, development, desiccation and death, to the same requirements of nutrition, procreation and elimination of waste which characterizes the animal world, formed together with Adam on that primordial Sixth Day.
Rav Soloveitchik calls this aspect of the human being “Natural Man.” I would suggest calling him “Bestial Man.” Herein lies the source for viewing the human being as no more than a complex animal, devoid of true freedom of choice to truly change himself or change the world. Bestial Man is naturally programmed, the world is based on a “survival of the fittest” and “to the victor belongs the spoils” mentality; war tests physical prowess, courage and bravery, and the weak and feeble are there to be enslaved or snuffed out.
Morality is merely the hobgoblin of little minds and even weaker bodies, vainly attempting to curb the appetites of the truly powerful. This mindset paves the way for totalitarian states, aryan supremacy, Stalinist-Soviet subjugation and the power of jihad to dominate the world. Might makes right. But this, too, must pass, for even the most powerful human being is, after all, only physical and mortal, a broken potsherd, a withering flower, a passing dream, so that a life becomes, as Shakespeare says, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Genesis Chapter 2, however, tells a very different story, a world created not only by a powerful Elohim but by a loving Hashem Elohim.
This chapter begins “when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted because there was no human being to till the earth” [Gen. 2:5], and so the loving “Hashem Elohim formed the human being from dust of the earth into whose nostrils He exhaled the soul of life.” It is as though the entire physical world is waiting for the human being to activate it, to complete and perfect it, to redeem it; the human being, “the last for which the first was made” (as Robert Browning wrote in “Rabbi Ben Ezra”).
And yes, the world is physical and the human being is physical, with all the strengths and the limitations of the physical, but it is an eternal and spiritual God who created the world, and it is an eternal and spiritual God who inspirited part of His own spiritual being within the human physical form. And how meaningful are the words of the sacred Zohar and the Ba’al Ha-Tanya, “whoever exhales, exhales from within Himself, from His innermost, essential being” (as it were). This is the creation of Celestial Man.
“The loving Hashem Elohim … placed (the human) in the Garden of Eden (the world at that time) to till it (le’abed, “to develop and perfect it”) and to preserve it (le’shomrah, “to take responsibility for it”). Yes, the world is an imperfect creation, filled with darkness as well as light, with evil as well as good (Isaiah 45:7) and the human being will engage in a perennial struggle between the bestial and celestial within himself. But the Bible promises that “at the door of life, until the very opening of the grave, sin crouches, its desire energized to conquer (the human), but the human will conquer sin, will overcome evil” [Gen. 4:7].
And so we conclude Yom Kippur with the exultant shout that Hashem is Elohim, the God of Love is the essence and the endgame of the God of Creative Power, that right will triumph over might and peace will trump jihad.
Every human being must find within himself the God-given strength to be an emissary towards perfecting this world in the Kingship of the Divine (Aleynu): to recreate himself, to properly direct his/her children, to make an improvement within his/her community and society. May we not falter on this God-given opportunity to bring us closer to redemption.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat.