Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Purpose of Adam


          The Purpose of Adam  2023 RH Day 1


          I will tell you a story about the Hebrew school teacher, the melamed, who wanted to show off to the Rabbi how well his smallest children, in first grade, had learned their lessons. The Rabbi as schedule to visit the class, and he would show how well they learned.

          " 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 his eyes.


Now as we're talking about creation of the human being and this is Rosh Hashanah we want to talk about this as the beginning of the Jewish year we may ask ourselves the question of what it is that we are celebrating or marking.


Like everything there's no straight answer, we have to think through the why’s.


First we have to understand that there is a dispute in the Talmud itself about when the world is created so that according to one sage it was created in the month of Nissan the month in which Pesach falls. On the other hand there's another sage who states that the world was created in Tishri. That is this month, of course, which we always assume is the reason we have Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the year at this point. (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 10 b). Thus, when we blow the Shofar in the Musaf, we announce, Hayom Harat Olam-Today, the world came into being.!


However to confuse matters more we have a conflicting theory that Rosh Hashanah is not the birthday of the world but the birthday of the first human being, Adam. That would mean that the creation of the world actually takes place six days before, on Ellul 25, and Adam is the culmination on the 1st day of Tishrei.


Here is the source Pesikta d Rav Kahana 23 :1

תני ר' אליע' בעשרים וחמשה באלול נברא העולם.


Rabbi Eliezer gives an hour by hour description of the first day of the human being from the moment that he is shaped through to the moment that he enters Eden, through the moment that he sins and is brought to judgment. At the 12th hour ,the end of that day he is then acquited.


בשתים עשרה יצא בדימוס מלפני הק"ב. א' לו הקב"ה, אדם, זה סימן לבניך כשם שנכנסתה לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויצאתה בדימוס, כך עתידין בניך להיות נכנסין לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויוצאין בדימוס. אימתי, בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש (ויקרא כג:כד).


From this the Rabbi concludes that the holy one told the first human ,”this shall be a sign to your children that just as you came before me in judgment on this day and left my presence acquitted so in the future your children shall stand in front of me in judgment on this day and they shall go out as aquited,  and when is this? In the 7th month on the first day of the month.


This is a great moral tie in for us with Rosh Hashanah because the creation of the world whether 6000 years ago or 6 billion or 60 billion really doesn't affect us not one way or the other. But tying in this beginning of the year with the beginning of our coming to grips with our weaknesses and then finding our compassion and our being cleansed of our weakness, that becomes the real reason for making this Rosh Hashanah the beginning of our year.

                    One of the ancient scholars of Israel, Ben Azzai, said that the greatest verse of the Torah 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."

          This idea, of the human being as the pinnacle of creation, and as , indeed, the goal of creation, is much laughed at in popular thought—we are, it is claimed, no more than a variation of the dna molecules we share with a worm, or even a bacteria. It is a very distressing world view, one which leaves us human beings as miserable wretches, of no intrinsic sanctity.

To make matters worse, we are in an era in which all our concepts of what it means to be human are in question. What is male , what is female? As we move towards Artificial Intelligence, can silicon chips have a soul?   

The question of what it means to be human goes back to the first Adam. I don’t know if a whale asks” what it means to be a whale.” I don’t know if a dog asks “what it means to be a dog?” But humans have been asking, and in antiquity, the answer was depressing.

Our modern responses are a throwback to the ancient pagan concept, as we have recorded in the sagas of the middle east, that ancient Israel knew very well and rejected, that the human is shaped out if the blood of the demon and condemned to feed the gods.

          Judaism comes to oppose that perspective. Hence, Rosh Hashanah marks the creation of the human being.

          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. Yes, at core, like the earth we are made from, we share the dna of the worm and the bacteria. But as humans, we are not doomed to be stuck in the mud, “Sulam mutzav artsa” the ladder whose foot is stuck in the mud, but “ Rosho magia hashamayma”, the head can reach the heavens.

                    What  better statement of the regard for the human potential, than these words by Rabbi Nehemiah. " One person is equal to all of creation."    ( Av d Rabbi Nathan 31)

          The human , Adam, is not some miserable victim, to accept is miserable passivity what nature has given out.

          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.

          If we are to see our selves as the pinnacle of creation, we also need to see that we are often miserable brats, falling far short of our potential. That is what we see in the second story of creation, when Adam and Eve are out and about in the real world.    

          I had the privilege of serving as student secretray to one of the great religious teachers of this century, Rabbi  Abraham Joshua Heshel, who had marched arm in arm with the late Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma , Alabama. This is how he described the quandary of the human, created in  the divine image, yet striking out on day 1 in the Park.

          “ 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.

          The same thing happends with Cain, version 2.0 to the Adam 1.0.

          God asks Cain a simple question," Where is your brother , Abel?," and Cain denies all responsibility," Am I my brothers keeper?."

          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.

          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. " He then continues, 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 torement in  eternity."

          I'll tell a fair answer to such a challenge. A teacher  tried to explain life to his students:" Life is like a game."

           One student raised his hand, If life is like a game, how can we play if we don't know where the goal posts are?"( Charles Wallis)

          Here are the goal posts-- two goals in Jewish tradition-- Beyn adam lamakom and beyn adam lehavero--Between human and God, and between human and human.

          Beyn Adam lemakom-Between Human and God--these are the acts of worship, the disciplines  of Judaism, the cycles of the day, the week and the seasons.

          This is the easy goal to reach. Even if you miss the goal post by miles, God is an easy going referee, and you get the points.

          Between human and human--these are the moral acts of righteousness and lovingkindness, and this is the harder goal to reach. The referee is not God, but your fellow, your neighbor, as well as stranger.   With people, a miss is as good as a mile.

          Keep these two goals in mind and you will surely score the goals, or make the basket or hit a home run.       

          May we all, indeed, see the day, when humanity, perfected under the kingship of teh Almighty, will prove worthy of being the culmination of creation. Amen.


No comments:

Post a Comment