Monday, October 20, 2014

The Purpose of Adam


            The Purpose of Adam

            Comments on the Weekly Reading: The Creation of Adam

            There is a story about the Hebrew school teacher who wanted to show off to the Rabbi how well his smallest children, in first grade, had learned their lessons.
            " Yankele, when the Rabbi asks you," Who made you," you will say "God".
            Itzik, when the Rabbi asks you " from what" you will say" from the earth".
            They study this lesson over and again, and finally, comes the day of the visit.
            The Rabbi walks in and the little children fall silent in awe at the distinguished visitor.
            The Rabbi, as expected asks the children" Who made you?". Nobody answers, Silence. He asks again. No answer. And again. still no answer. Finally, one little youngster raises his hand.
" Please Rabbi, the boy that God made--he is home sick with the flu."
            Fortunately, we know the answer, and we don't need to look for the boy who is home with the flu.
            Still, if we talk about God making man and woman, we can ask, " What is this Adam, this man and woman, that God created?" It's an ancient question, probably as ancient as the day Adam first opened eyes.
            One of the ancient scholars of Israel, Ben Azzai, said that the great verse of this book is found in the 3rd chapter of Genesis:
            " This is the book of the history of Adam. God created Adam in the divine image, male and female he created them."
            Adam means mankind, all mankind, all races and peoples, male and female, all created in the likeness of God, all of us as bearing exceptional potential. We are God-like in our traits when we use them for good good.
            A member of my former congregation, Reuven Weisman, of blessed memory, had been a noted Jewish educator, and he taught me a saying from his father, a noted Rabbinic scholar in earlier days.
            " What is man? He is like Jacob's famous ladder,Sulam muztav arza v rosho magia hashamayma   .We are a ladder, whose base rests on earth, but whose head reaches into the heavens."
            We may be mere mortals, tiny, limited , but our souls, our potentials, our mind, and spirit, are capable of reaching to the heavens.
            In the pagan world, it was customary for the idols to be brought out in procession, and for soldiers to run in advance and declare, "Make way for the images of the gods of Rome".  Rabbi Joshua ben Levi laughed at this custom. "Do you not realize," he scoffed," that when a  man goes in the road, a troop of angels proceed in front of him and proclaim, " Make way for the image of the Holy one, blessed be he."( Deut.Rabah 4:4).
             If we wish to see God, he was telling us, we must look for him (or her) in our fellow human being, not in any idols or objects.
            What better statement of the regard for the human potential, than these words by Rabbi Nehemiah, “One person is equal to all of creation."       ( Avot d' Rabbi Nathan 31)
            There is even competition between man and God as to who does better, in our teachings.
            A sceptic once challenged Rabbi Akiba, " Who creates more beautiful works--God or man?  After all, look at the skies and the heavens."
            Rabbi Akiba answered.” These objects are out of our reach, true, but what ever we can get our hands on, we can do better. Man creates more beautiful works. God produces wheat, but we make fine cakes. God produces flax, but we make fine clothing of it."
            It is the human being who is capable of bringing perfection and completion to the world. It is man, meaning both male and female, who are God's partners in creation, partners in creation when we act righteously and do good.
            In Kabbalistic lore, mankind is created precisely to complete the creation of the universe. We are created, the mystics said, lezorech gavohah, we are created for the greatest need, for tikun olam, to restore the world to its pristine glory.
            Yet, we know that if mankind is God's child, that child often behaves like an intolerable brat.
            There is a quaint description of God discussing with the angels his idea of creating Adam. There was no unanimity, the story goes. Some angels said," Please don't create him", yet others said, “Do create him".
            Love said: Create him for he will do deeds of love.
            Truth said: Do not create him, for he will be all lies.
            Righteousness said: Create him, for he will do righteous deeds.
            Peace said: Do not create him, for he will be all quarrel and discord.
            For the sake of man, the story goes, God cast truth to the ground, even though truth is his own emblem.(Gen. Rabbah 8)
             God had high expectations, but what has he been doing about us ever since?
            I had the privilege of serving as student secretary to one of the great religious teachers of this century, Rabbi  Abraham Joshua Heschel, who had marched arm in arm with the late Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma , Alabama. This is what he said of the human condition:

            " All  of human history as described in the Bible may be summarized in one phrase: God is in search of man.
When Adam and Eve hid from his presence, the Lord called," Where are you"( Gen 3:9). . . .
            "God is in need of man for the attainment of his ends ...  
God is looking for a" partner in creation" . . .." He continued, in quoting the ancient sages," The wicked rely on their gods, but the righteous are a support for God."
            God is always looking for us. He needs us, but we don't always want to be found. When we are found, we don't always want to answer to our failings.
            When  Adam sins, he covers himself with the infamous fig leaf,  hides in the bushes , and then blames his wife, Eve. She in turn, blames the snake. No one wants to take responsibility.
            God asks Cain a simple question," Where is your brother , Abel?," and Cain denies all responsibility," Am I my brothers keeper?."
            Our sages imagined this running dialogue between God and Cain, a dialogue that every criminal has used ever since,:
            God turns to Cain." Where is Abel your brother?" Cain answers, “I don't know, why do you ask me about him?  Do I ask you about him?           You, after all, are the keeper of all creation, and you ask me where he is?"
            Then he continues, “Of course I killed him-- you created me with the evil instinct. You are guardian of all, and you let me kill him--then you killed him!"
            Answered God," But Your brother's blood cried from the ground." 
            He couldn't deny the act, so he claimed ignorance,
            "Lord of the world. I didn't know what could happen. I have never seen a corpse in all my days. How could I know that if I hit him on the head with a stone, he would die? "( Gen. Rabbah 22)
            God is always calling us, and we are always either hiding, or coming up with lame excuses. We run away from what we are capable of, run away from our potential.
            The sage Hillel was aware that we are not always ready or courageous enough to stand up for what is right. We look around and see no one around us who is ready to do the job.        
            "Bamakom sheain ish, histadel lihyot ish: Where there is no man try to be a man." Or a woman. We surely can try.
            We have tremendous capacity for good, which we often are afraid of letting loose.           
            The Danish philsopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, offered this advice:
             "A possibility is a hint from God. One must follow it. In every man there is latent the highest possibility; one must follow it. . . We each must say: Trusting to God, I have dared, even though I was not successful; in that is peace , calm, a confidence in God.  But to say: I have not dared; that is a woeful thought, a torment in  eternity."
            Would that we could all be ready to dare to fulfill our possibilities, with full responsibility for our actions.
            We pray that the day will come that humanity will behave in a manner fitting the " Image of God." On that, God will finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief and rest from creation.

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