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Parashat Bereshit – The purpose of man's creation - Rabbi Meir David Kahane

And G-d said, "Let Us make man, in Our image, after Our likeness. They shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and over the animal, the whole earth, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." (Gen. 1:26) ...And He said, "Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten of the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?" (Gen. 3:11)

Man's supreme, guiding principle must be to know what his task is in the world and to ascertain the ways of G-d, the Divine ideas and traits he should cling to in order to achieve that task. Man's subjugating his ego beneath G-d's yoke and his readiness to cling to G-d and pay absolute obeisance to His sovereign authority are prerequisites to his attaining the complete holiness emanating from G-d. The purpose of creation was to create a being different from all others in the world. He would be different from the beasts and fowl, which are incapable of conquering their passions. By nature, they are slaves to their material desires, and their lives focus entirely on the need to satisfy their lusts. How can they incur punishment when they have no free choice, filling only a bestial role? Neither would he be like the ministering angels, who are incapable of indulging their evil impulse since they have none. Having no free will, innately holy and good, how can they ever earn reward?

This being, man, is unique, different from all other creatures G-d created. While it is true that he has within him an evil impulse, he also has the mental resources and spiritual fortitude to overcome that impulse and control it – how great and exalted this is! This was G-d's great message to Cain (Gen. 4:7): “If you do well,shall you not be spared? But if you do not do well, sin crouches at the door. It lusts after you but you can control it.” Our sages commented (Lekach Tov, Gen. 4:7), “The whole desire of the evil impulse is to take hold of you, but if you wish, you can control it.” A person is not free, he is not at liberty to act however he pleases. He is bound by the yoke of Heaven, the fetters of our holy Torah. Only by agreeing to serve G-d and accept His yoke does he become free. This alone liberates him from the empty bestiality which enslaves him to his own needs, to his own selfish ego, to abominable lust. G-d does not recognize man's right to do as he pleases as long as it does not harm his fellow man. G-d established that a man's life does not belong to him. Man was commanded to live and given a path to follow. Not only is he forbidden to harm his fellow man, but he is forbidden to harm himself. As long as a person opposes his Maker, he harms himself. He takes his own soul, committing spiritual suicide, and he is not free to act this way.

Life, itself, is not a man's personal property. G-d blew into man the breath of life only so he would lead a well-defined life of goodness. As our sages said (Avot 4:29), “Perforce you were born and perforce you live.” On the one hand, man's foundation is from dust and his end is dust. He is likened to a broken potsherd and a faded flower, and even the mosquito preceded him in Creation: “What is man that You are mindful of him?” On the other hand, G-d “made him but little lower than the angels.” He elevated man almost to the level of Heavenly beings, angels with their holiness, purity and knowledge of G-d. Yet the very fact that man remained on a lower level than the angels, keeping his evil impulse, actually makes him greater than they. Man has an evil impulse, but also the resources to overcome it and to submit himself and his egotistic pride to G-d's commands. Nothing is greater than that. For the sake of this the world was created – for man alone.

G-d chose Israel to exemplify the perfect human being who would uphold a world of perfection, of total goodness, as G-d wished His world to be at the start of Creation.

Yevamot 61a states that Israel are called "Adam" , but the nations are not. The reason is that Israel were given the mission originally given to Adam, to crown G-d King over himself and over the entire world, thereby sanctifying the world with goodness through G-d's attributes, ways and values. This was the intent of Him Whose word brought the world into being - to create a world that was entirely good, as was stated after He created it: " G-d saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Here, "very good" means "entirely good".

After Adam sinned and G-d saw that it was impossible to achieve by natural processes a state in which all of mankind would be good, He decided to create a single emissary, one nation which would be anointed as G-d's Messiah on earth, a light unto the nations to teach them G-d's ways. This Messiah, this chosen people, was Israel. Israel were called "Adam" because it was they who were to continue the mission of Adam, who was created for this purpose yet failed. Thus, Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:[2]3 states, "The world was created only for Israel's sake", i.e. only for the sake of the mission given to Israel. Once again, this means that Israel were chosen to be G-d's emissary in the world, to create, fashion and perfect it according to the Torah blueprint (See Bereshit Rabbah, 1:1).

Thus, we are to praise G-d and recount those praises until all the nations on earth know and recognize the the L-rd is G-d, bend at the knee and bow down to His Majesty, and accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven.

Compiled by Tzipora Liron-Pinner from "The Jewish Idea" of Rabbi Meir David Kahane, HY"D