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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And G-d said, "Let us make man in Our image, in Our likeness." (1:26)

Man was created in Hashem's image. This means that every human being, regardless of his or her position, shares a unique quality with Hashem. This is the Tzelem Elokim, image of G-d. While man's physical appearance does not mirror G-d, he has a quality which is uniquely endemic to man, his ability to exercise free will, which relates him in some way to Hashem. While Hashem always chooses correctly - man does not. Man errs and is subject to his inclinations which very often reign over him. Thus, man's ability to choose between good and evil is what makes him G-d-like. He has the potential to choose correctly and thereby elevate his G-d-like status, or he can defer to his evil inclination and descend to the nadir of depravity, thus destroying his essential G-d-like image.

When one realizes that his ultimate self-worth is based upon his incredible potential to become G-d-like, he is encouraged. Certainly, one who recognizes his potential for greatness does not have any issues concerning self-esteem. After all, for what more can one ask? The ability to achieve Tzelem Elokim status-- to rise above a morally bankrupt world filled with spiritual filth-- should be sufficient to catapult one's self-esteem. Indeed, it is stated in the Shaarei HaAvodah, "The first gateway to serving Hashem is the realization of one's own worth." How can one act inappropriately when he realizes that he will be debasing himself?

The next step is to realize that this same gift has been given to all other human beings. Therefore, the awareness that my fellow man also possesses a Tzelem Elokim should engender a healthy respect for the other. Indeed, as Horav A. Henoch Leibowitz, zl, explains, one who claims to have self-respect, but does not respect others, probably has little respect for himself. He cites the Baalei Tosfos who posit that one recognizes and is reminded of the Tzelem Elokim in others to a greater degree than in himself. Therefore, if one honestly respects his own nobility and potential, he should be even more aware of his fellow's greatness. Furthermore, if Hashem decided to create a person, He obviously did so for a reason. Who are we to disagree? Respect for others is equivalent to respect for ourselves. When we do not manifest respect for others, it indicates that we are ourselves troubled.

So G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him. (1:27)

According to Chazal, the creation of man was perfection personified. It was only after he sinned that his stature was diminished, that he became imperfect. Ever since then, no man has been born perfect. He must spend his infancy and youth developing his strength, his physical and intellectual abilities, leading up to a more perfect version of that to which man can and should aspire. This is done through study for years, guidance from those more experienced, and much hard work. Why is it this way? The animal world does not seem to have this "problem." Immediately after birth, animals enter the world with all of their faculties in place. Within a few days, they are standing on their own. They recognize which foods are nutritious and from which ones they need to separate themselves, which creatures are friend and which are foe. Even those who do not develop immediately still do so much more quickly than human beings.

The commentators offer a number of reasons for this disparity. In his Mishpetai HaTorah, Horav Tzvi Shpitz, Shlita, suggests a reason based upon a principle cited in the name of the Chasam Sofer by the Sefer Chut HaMeshulash. An individual was making life miserable for the Chasam Sofer for quite some time. The sage lamented, "I do not remember doing anything special for him that would cause him to treat me so miserably."

The Chasam Sofer was addressing the natural tendency of a human being to feel a sense of gratitude to one who benefits him. Certainly, one will not respond negatively to one who is his benefactor. This is "normal" human nature: You are nice to me; in return, I am nice to you. Hashem commanded the Jewish People not to hate the Egyptians, despite all the misery and persecution which they caused us, because we had been strangers in their land. We owe them. They took us in during the great famine, gave us a place to live and food to eat. We are, therefore, beholden to them. The fact that they followed all this good with so much bad does not diminish our obligation to them. That is the "normal" way of acting. This is how good people respond to someone who has been kind to them.

Regrettably, there are individuals whose self-centered nature induces them to descend beneath contempt, acting in such a reprehensible manner that they not only refuse to show any appreciation to their benefactor, they even revile those who benefit them. Why? Because they cannot tolerate being in anyone's debt. A person whose human nature is so repulsive that he is unable to do any good for anyone denies that he has received any benefit from another person. Therefore, he will go out of his way to do everything possible to denigrate and belittle any good that he has received. This is a truly troubled man. Sadly, such people exist in proportions that would be better left unstated.

Rav Shpitz applies this principle to Moshe Rabbeinu's remonstration that the abundance of gold and silver which Hashem gave the Jewish People catalyzed the sin of the Golden Calf. Simply, this means that now that they were wealthy and seemingly self-sustaining, they no longer felt they needed Hashem. Therefore, they rebelled.

In light of the above, we can suggest a deeper meaning to Moshe's lament. The gold, silver and all the wonderful gifts which Hashem showered on the Jews had a negative influence on them. Actually, it backfired because now they had to downplay the fact that they "owed" Hashem. They neither needed a Golden Calf, nor believed in it. They behaved in this manner purely to anger Hashem, so that they could deny His favor. It was against their nature to feel beholden to Him, so they had to neutralize His beneficence in order to disparage the multitude of good that He had rained upon them. The obligation to pay gratitude compelled the Jewish people to rebel against Hashem.

Prior to the sin, Adam HaRishon had been a creation who had no peer. He was absolutely perfect and, as such, clearly recognized his obligation to pay gratitude to his Creator. Once he sinned and the serpent's zuhama, spiritual filth, became suffused in him, he was engulfed in a powerful conflict. He knew what he must do, but the filth was telling him to renege and do everything within his power to repudiate his obligation of hakoras hatov, gratitude. Indeed, the Midrash claims that when Hashem asked Adam whether he had eaten from the tree, he replied, "Yes, I ate, and I will continue to eat!" These are words of gross chutzpah, insolence with shame. How do we explain such impudence on the part of Adam HaRishon? Apparently, he was a victim of his inner conflict, the confrontation of an obligation to pay gratitude acting against the serpent's filth, which egged him on to renounce Hashem's favor.

We now understand why the ensuing generations of mankind had to be born "blemished." Therefore, they do not have this acute understanding of the overriding necessity to be makir tov, grateful, and, by extension, they do not feel compelled to reject this obligation by dismissing the favor. While it is obvious that man is helpless without Hashem, there exists room in man's "imperfect" mind to think that he has abilities and that he can achieve. Since he possesses this notion in his mind, he does not feel compelled to demonstrate his appreciation to Hashem, thereby circumventing the desire to repudiate Hashem's favor. On the contrary, he strives to fulfill his spiritual ambitions to come closer to Hashem and ultimately to cling to Him.

The woman said to the serpent… "Of the fruit of the tree which is in the center of the garden, G-d has said: 'You shall not eat of it…lest you die.' The serpent said to the woman, 'You shall not surely die.'" (3:2,3,4)

The serpent immediately went to work enticing Chavah to commit the sin which forever altered world history. The question that glares at us is: Where was Adam during this time? It is not as if there was much to do. The world had just been created. Human beings had just entered the scene, with the female as the last creation. One would expect Adam to spend some "time" with his wife. Chazal ask this question, and the replies vary. One answer that deserves insight is given by Abaye: "Adam went for a nap." Adam's nap was not like ours in any way. Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, cites the Talmud in Succah 26A that says that David Hamelech would sleep sixty respirations. Certainly, Adam's nap was even shorter than that! This was the yetzir kapav shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu, creation of Hashem's hands. The Heavenly angels mistook him for a celestial creation and were about to sing shirah, a song of praise, to him. Clearly, his sleep was but a moment that changed the world.

Rav Zaitchik emphasizes how a rega, short moment, can spell the difference between acquiring eternal light or losing it, causing darkness to descend for oneself and all future generations. The Navi Yeshayah (54:7) says, "For but a moment have I forsaken you, and with abundant mercy I will gather you in." The Radak explains this to mean that, although the exile has extended for so very long, it will be considered as a quick moment in comparison with the magnanimity of Hashem's compassion when He gathers us in.

Rav Zaitchik goes so far as to interpret this pasuk as a warning about the daunting responsibility one has to compensate for the loss of a rega katan, small moment. It is lost forever. To correct the loss of this "small moment," which has incredibly large repercussions, takes rachamim gedolim, great compassion. We simply do not understand the overwhelming significance of each and every moment.

When one realizes how much can be achieved in a moment and the difference it makes, he will appreciate it that much more. The Talmud in Berachos 58A relates that Rabbi Chana ben Chanilai would not remove his hand from his pocket, always keeping it ready to give charity. He feared that a respectable poor man might approach him for a donation and he would have to spend a moment looking for money, thus embarrassing the man.

One moment- that is all it would be, but if someone would be humiliated, this moment would be magnified many times over. One moment can make the difference between life and death. One moment separates Shabbos from the rest of the week. One hairbreadth spells the difference between a kosher shechitah, ritual slaughter, and one that is invalid. One step separates the boundary of one country from its neighbor, one nation from another. One slight deviation can mean the beginning of an altered view, a changed relationship, a turning away from a Torah life. It all begins that one moment. How important it is for us to value every moment that Hashem grants us. It is His greatest gift. One moment, it is here; the next moment, it is gone forever.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, knew how to value the gift of time. He knew the infinite value of every single moment. Once, when the Rosh Yeshivah of Radin, Horav Naftali Trop, zl, was gravely ill, the students of the yeshivah prayed fervently for his return to health. Alas, the situation did not improve. Out of love for their revered rebbe, each student donated a part of his own individual life to their rebbe. One gave a day; another, a few days; yet another a week. They decided to ask the saintly Chafetz Chaim to join in their endeavor. How much would he contribute? How many hours would he spare for the Rosh Yeshivah? The Chafetz Chaim sat down and made an accounting of the time he had expended, to determine how much he could "spare." He thought long and hard, as the students stared in awe and consternation while he seemed to wrestle with himself for a figure. Suddenly, he turned to them and said, "I will give you one moment!"

How startled and shocked they were from his answer. They had just witnessed an individual of unparalleled piety demonstrate to them the value of time. One moment of life was an eternity! It was invaluable. Here was an individual who never wasted a moment! It was G-d's gift. How could he squander it? When word of the Chafetz Chaim's reply spread through the yeshivah, it engendered an unprecedented inspiration and arousal for learning b'hasmadah, with great diligence. Indeed, it was later related that the hasmadah in the yeshivah that year surpassed that of any previous or following year. The students now understood the value of a moment.

Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. (3:18)

The Bnei Yissachar offers a homiletic rendering of this pasuk. Prior to the sin of eating of the Eitz Hadas, Tree of Knowledge, man's perception of good and evil was unequivocally clear. There was good and there was evil, with no question whatsoever concerning their distinct definitions. Then Adam ate the forbidden fruit, and his vision blurred. Good and evil suddenly took on a new look - one that was ambiguous - one that was subject to personal prejudice and pre-disposition. This is implied by kotz v'dardar tatzmiach lach, "Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you." Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet can be clearly recognized without problem, even from a distance, except for the daled and reish. The only difference between these two letters is the kotz, tiny point that sticks out from the daled.

We find two pesukim in the Torah in which these two letters are enlarged. In the pasuk Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad, "Hear O'Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One," (Devarim 6:4) the daled at the end of ehchad (one) is enlarged. In Shemos 34:14, Ki lo sishtachaveh l'eil acheir, "For you shall not prostrate yourselves to an alien god," the reish of acheir (alien) is likewise augmented. The sin of the Eitz HaDaas created a possibility of "confusing" the daled of echad with the reish of acheir and vice versa. The difference between the daled, reish, daled, reish or dardar became jumbled. It is only a little kotz that delineates the letters, but it can make a world of difference between "one" G-d and alien gods.

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, embellishes this exegesis with a story. A simple villager hired a tutor to teach his son Torah. One night, he went upstairs to the tutor's room to find him on the floor, weeping. The villager could not understand what he was doing. "Why are you sitting on the floor weeping?" he asked. "I am mourning the destruction of our Temple," the tutor asked.

"May I join you?" the villager asked. "Certainly," the tutor responded. After awhile, the villager asked, "Is there any reason we cannot have a little vodka?" "I see no reason why not," answered the tutor.

This went on for a few shots of vodka until the tutor,unfamiliar with the effect of alcoholic beverages, became extremely "happy." Now that both the villager and the tutor were in excellent moods, they decided they might as well have a little dance. Shortly thereafter, one of the townspeople, hearing all of the racket and seeing two men dancing together in the middle of the night, asked them incredulously, "What are you doing? Why are you dancing?" The response from the villager was straightforward, "We are mourning the destruction of the Temple."

When one's vision is blurred, when the reish appears to be a daled-- and vice versa-- one can begin dancing for the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and weeping for what should be viewed as a joyous occasion. This is all the result of eating the forbidden fruit.

And also afterward when the sons of the rulers would consort with the daughters of man. (6:4)

The nephillim, giants, had apparently been around for some time. Thoroughly evil, they were given the title nephillim, a derivative of nafal, to fall, because they fell and caused others to fall. The Midrash Rabba adds to their iniquity, saying, "The latter did not learn (a lesson) from its predecessors." The generation of the Flood did not derive mussar, an ethical lesson, from the generation of Enosh when one third of the world was flooded. Likewise, the generation of the Dispersion did not derive a lesson from the generation of the Flood. While it is certainly important to learn from the lesson of the past, it is essential that there be some sort of corollary between the past and the present. It is understandable that the nephillim should have taken heed after what had occurred during the time of Enosh and Kayin, but what does the generation of the Dispersion have to do with the generation of the Flood? Their sins were in total contrast with one another.

The generation of the Flood stole from one another. They had no respect for one another. The generation of the Dispersion seemed to get along too well - exactly the opposite of their predecessors. Why does the Midrash posit that the sin of the Dor Haflagah, generation of the Dispersion, resulted from their not taking a lesson from the Dor Ha'Mabul, generation of the Flood?

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi. Shlita, explains that although the individual sins of these two generations seem to be in direct contrast of each other, they nonetheless both share the same source for their iniquity. What is the fountainhead for the insidious sin of theft? What is the root of this sin? It comes from a lack of respect for another person. No one means anything to me: I want; I need; I take. The other person's feelings have no bearing on my desire. Everything branches out from the ani, the "I."

Is this not what Communism and its various offshoots were all about? The "I," the "me." They even made an ideal out of corruption, a philosophy for the nullification of the individual's rights to anything. The individual no longer counted. He was part of a collective group. His identity was gone. He became a number that did not count. It all started with satisfying the "I" and resulted in the destruction of the "they." There is no room for "me" and "you" - only for "me," because "you" no longer count. "You" are here to serve "me." It goes so far that the "I" is willing to forego what is "mine" just as long as "you" do not have what is "yours." Once again it all revolves around "me." I do not have, but neither do you. I can live with that!

We see now how the Dor Haflagah was an extension of the Dor Ha'Mabul. The generation of the Flood negated the distinctiveness of the individual. He no longer had an identity. This led to wholesale theft. After all, why not? It does not really belong to "anybody." The person from whom I am stealing is not an entity. He is a nothing. This ideal mushrooms when the following generation continues along this path of evil, making it a philosophy of life.

If a person allows the evil of the previous generation to fester and germinate, it becomes adopted into his line of thinking, granting him license to justify the most heinous iniquity. Had the generation of the Dispersion given some thought to the actions of the generation of the Flood; had they delved into the source of their perfidious behavior, they would have realized that they, too, were in effect replicating them.

Had they only learned from the lessons of the past. It is no different from one who plants a field. He must first weed out the plants and exterminate the bugs, so that the fresh seeds he plants in the ground will have the optimum conditions for prodigious growth.

Va'ani Tefillah

Someich Hashem l'chol ha'noflim
Hashem upholds all that fall. The alphabetical order by which Ashrei is arranged is missing the letter "nun." In the Talmud Berachos 4b, Chazal explain that this letter would have had to be used for the designation of nefillah, falling, as a reference to the "fall" of man. Thus, it was omitted. Nonetheless, David HaMelech does mention the spiritual fall of man, but he does so in connection with the Divine support which prevents this fall. "Hashem upholds all that fall!" Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that man seems to attribute his success to his own abilities and talents, and it is only when he stumbles and falls that he perceives this to be the act of some Divine Power.

David HaMelech teaches us that the opposite is true. Man's fall is the result of his own undoing. It is a consequence of his folly and disobedience to G-d. Indeed, the ability to remain upright in the midst of all of the trials and challenges that life offers us, to maintain fortitude in the face of life's vicissitudes, to breathe the breath of life, to enjoy progress and development - that is all from Hashem. The greatness of G-d is not revealed in death and decay, but in life and growth. Nefillah, designating the fall of man, belongs to the chronicles of mankind. David's Song concerns itself with the support and compassion Hashem gives to he who is bowed and about to fall. He supports the bowed and picks up the fallen.

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