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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum


"And Hashem said, 'Let the earth cover itself with vegetation, plants that reproduce through seeds, fruit trees that are fruit...'"

Rashi comments that Hashem had planned that the tree would have the same taste as the fruit. The earth disobeyed, generating trees that bore fruit, but which were not themselves fruit. Consequently, Hashem punished the earth together with man. The commentators explain that prior to the time that natural law was definitely established, Hashem had granted the earth an element of "creative" freedom. In addition, as the Rambam states in Hilchos Yesodei Ha'Torah, the various parts of creation have a living soul and consciousness of their own existence.

Horav Eli Munk, zl, cites the Chizkuni, who offers the earth's rationale for defying Hashem's command. The earth's sin originated in a feeling which was grounded in reality, although unjustified in its intensity. The earth, aware that Hashem wanted to propagate the world and preserve the species, reasoned that one day humans would need large quantities of food to survive. Because patience is not a natural human virtue, people would not be inclined to wait many years until a tree grows strong and produces an abundance of fruit. Rather, they would fell the trees prematurely in order to use them as fruit, thereby decimating the trees rapidly. Thus, if Hashem creates the taste of the tree to be distinct from the taste of the fruit, people would not destroy the trees. Horav Munk notes that the first sin within creation was one of "an excess of righteousness." The earth second-guessed Hashem! This is the principle which Shlomo Ha'Melech decries in Koheles 7:16, "Be not overly righteous or excessively wise." When man succumbs to self- imposed and unrequired restrictions, he is asserting that he is wiser than the Creator.

As a result of this infraction, the ideal state - in which the tree and its fruit would have the same taste - was never realized. Since that time, creation has suffered from a state of imperfection in which substance is not in harmony with form, reflecting an integral antagonism between them. This is all because of an attitude that has plagued us since creation, an excess of righteousness. Hashem Yisborach has informed us through our Torah and its codes what is right and what is wrong. To attempt to add to His mandate is not only foolish, but it is also wrong, and likely to produce tragic results.

"And Hashem said, 'Let us make man.'" (1:26)

Shlomo Ha'Melech teaches us in Koheles 12:13, "When all is said and done, fear Hashem,... for that is the sum of man." This is a remarkable statement! One who does not fear Heaven is an animal! Is the fear of G-d the true determining factor in one's humanness? Perhaps it is a component in his physical makeup, but is it not bold to say that this is the primary, the sole factor, in his characterization as a human being?

Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, claims that, indeed, one's humanness is in direct proportion to his fear of G-d. The more devout one is, the greater a man he is. One who is devoid of Heavenly fear, one who has the arrogance and gall to assert that he has no fear of G-d, is nothing more than an animal! He cites the Zohar Ha'Kadosh to support his position.

The Zohar teaches us a fascinating thought, one that offers a new perspective towards understanding the human condition. Hashem invited all of creation to participate in the creation of man. Each animal contributed an element of his own personality to man's overall constitution. In this manner man became a composite of all of the animals' characteristics. He had within him the personality of the snake, the lion, the ox, the mule, etc. Within man exists the power of intelligence and speech, coupled with all of the destructive forces of each animal. Thus, man has the potential to become the most dangerous animal in the world! Have we not witnessed man's capacity for destruction, man's evil, his lack of compassion, his propensity toward treachery? A single trait restrains man from reverting to his primitive and base instinct -- Yiraas Shomayim, his fear of Hashem. It is neither his intelligence or emotion, only his fear of G-d limits his animalistic tendencies and maintains his humanness. Indeed, man's fear of G-d restrains him from destroying himself, as well as the world in which he lives.

"And Hashem said, "Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.'" (1:26)

This pasuk has been the source of abundant commentary. The plural form, "us," seems to imply that Hashem consulted with others. Did the Almighty need assistance in order to create man? Chazal teach us that when Moshe wrote the Torah, he came to this pasuk and noticed the plural word "us." He asked Hashem, "Master, why give heretics the opportunity to claim that there is more than one G-d?" Hashem responded, "Write! And whoever wants to err will err. Write, for if a great man ever says, 'Why should I consult with others?' they will tell him, 'Learn from the Creator, Who consulted with the angels.'"

The Torah prefers to use an expression which might be misconstrued by polytheists, rather than refrain from teaching an important moral lesson. Indeed, a number of pesukim in the Torah could be misinterpreted. Schools of Bible criticism have based their entire "religious" perspective -- or lack thereof -- upon their ability to cast aspersion upon the authenticity of the Torah. Hashem's response to these spiritual aberrations is, "Let those who want to err -err!" It is more important to present the Torah in its pristine form, so that the Talmud can explain its ambiguities, than to attempt to satisfy the heretics. When all is said and done, they do not desire to be satisfied. Those Jews who look for any excuse to shirk their responsibility as Jews will arrive at a false interpretation -because this is what they are seeking. The Torah is written for the faithful - who ask no questions.

The Maasei Hashem posits that Hashem is speaking here to man. While other creatures reach their potential by virtue of natural law, man is rational. Through his education and will - he plays an integral role in what he becomes. He has within his power the strength to raise himself to the zenith of spirituality or to lower himself to the nadir of depravity. It is all up to him. Hence, when Hashem says, "Let us make man," He means, "Do what you have the capacity to do. I have endowed you with intelligence. I have imbued you with a holy soul. You are capable of becoming the kind of man that I intended - now do it!" To maximize one's potential is truly an extension of the work of Creation. To sit around and waste our G-d-given gifts is not only tragic, it also runs counter to Hashem's plan.

"And, Hashem, Elokim, formed the man of dust from the ground." (2:7)

Chazal call attention to the fact that the word rmhhu is spelled with a double "yud". They infer from this exceptional case the dual nature of man. Two yetziros, creations, came into being. Man is a composite of mortal and immortal, earthly and heavenly, the yetzer tov, the good inclination, and the yetzer hora, its evil counterpart. He is created for Olam Ha'zeh, this temporal world, and Olam Ha'bah, the Eternal world. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes that while there are two "yudin," only one "yud" is enunciated. One yetzira is audible while the other is quiescent. One is predominant, while the other remains subordinate. It is present, somewhat removed, but not totally dismissed. The most noble of men, the one who has reached the apex of spirituality, still belongs to the earth; in contrast, one may still observe a ray of spirituality, shining through even in the lowest of men.

Chazal enlighten us with the idea that right from the beginning man is endowed with these two tendencies. Nothing Hashem has created is evil. The difference lies in how one makes use of his gift. Each inclination can be used to serve the ideal of purity and holiness. Only the misguided who believe that the sensual world has not originated from Hashem. Indeed, a whole religion has fallen prey to this belief - to the point that the concept, "be fruitful and multiply," the first mitzvah given to man, is "below" the dignity of its priests. In Judaism, both inclinations are considered to be the work of Hashem. Man is a unique creation in whom the Divine and the mundane, heavenly and earthly, spiritual and material, the immortal and the mortal, join together to serve their Creator.

"And Hashem, Elokim, fashioned the side that He had taken from the man into a woman." (2:22)

The Midrash teaches us that Hashem "deliberated" before He created the first woman. Everything is influenced by the source from which it is created. Consequently, Hashem arranged it so that woman would not be created from any part of the body which would have an adverse affect upon her. He said, "If I create her from the head, she might become lightheaded. If I create her from the eyes, she might be overly curious, looking where she should not. If I create her from the ears, she might be predisposed to listen to gossip. If I create her from the mouth, she might be overly talkative. If I create her from the heart, she might be overly jealous. If I create her from the hands, she might be constantly touching things. If I create her from the feet, she might wander." Hashem, therefore, decided to create her from the rib, which is doubly covered by a layer of skin and clothing. He wanted the woman to be a tznuah, modest and chaste.

Not only did Hashem want woman to be intrinsically free of any negative traits, He created her with a specific goal - to be a tznuah. Horav Yitzchak Goldwasser, Shlita, infers from Chazal that tznius for a woman is not merely one more area through which she is to serve Hashem; rather, it symbolizes her inherent personality, which she is to refine and dignify. Implicit in woman's creation was a mandate for her to develop a specific trait of human personality to its maximum - tznius. She was created with the capacity to excel in this area!

Horav Goldwasser cites the Talmud Sotah 2a in which Chazal declare, "They only pair a woman with a man according to his deeds." As it says in Tehillim 125, "For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous." In interpreting the phrase, "according to his deeds," Rashi comments, "A tznuah to a tzaddik and a prutzah to a rasha." He seems to equate "righteous" with tznius and "wicked" with promiscuity. This implies that the determining factor for women regarding their virtuous standing -- or lack thereof -- is compliance with the Torah code of tznius!

This idea, suggests Horav Goldwasser, lends meaning to the pasuk at the end of Mishlei, "A woman of valor who can find? Far beyond pearls is her value." Why does Shlomo Ha'Melech choose pearls as opposed to other types of precious jewels? The answer lies in the Hebrew word for pearls - peninim - which alludes to panim, inner being. The pasuk tells us that a woman's greatest virtue is "penimah," her innerself, not her ability to capture the attention of the public eye. This coincides with the pasuk in Tehillim 45, "The glory of the daughter of the king lies on the inside." The true grandeur and majesty of every Jewish woman are not manifest in the public domain, but rather - penimah - through dimensions of the inner self. It is not necessary for her to have public acclaim in order to achieve her recognition. She does not have to emerge from that which today's hedonistic society considers to be an archaic imposed seclusion from the outside world in order to attain recognition.

The quest for identity, liberation and self-assertion most often originates from feelings of inner-discontent, and low self-esteem. Because the secular soul is so empty, one feels obligated to compensate for it by seeking public identity, either through a multitude of relationships or through careers and experiences. The Jewish woman should not feel this need, if she truly understands her mission in life. Our vacuous society has stereotyped the Jewish woman as a non-entity whose goal in life is to be subservient in a male- oriented society. This notion can only exist in a society that is far removed from religion and G-d. The central motif in Judaism is that all actions take place before Hashem, Who is the source of all value. The concept of "public" approval pales in comparison with Hashem's approval.

The Jewish woman shapes and guards the Jewish home. She has the fundamental responsibility to create an atmosphere which expresses the vibrancy of the Torah way of life. Torah is not something which is taught; it must be lived! This "living" is the creation of the Jewish wife and mother. Her success or failure is manifest by her children. Indeed, the stamp she leaves on her home expresses her uniqueness and individuality. This is the Torah's idea of self-definition. Can one demonstrate a greater sense of success?

Peninim on the Torah is in its 6th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.
The third volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.
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