Bs”d Breishit 5782
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
This week in synagogues, another cycle of Torah reading begins with Parashat Breishit. This Torah portion tells the story of G-d creating the world and the events that occurred in the beginning of days. The Torah tells us that the first human was created on the sixth day of creation:
And the Lord G-d formed man (ha’adam) of dust from the ground (adama), and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul.
(Genesis 2, 7)
It seems from this verse that man was named “adam” because he was made from dust from the ground (“adama”) but this explanation raises the question: Since all living creatures were formed from the dust of the ground, why is only man named for this?
To answer this question, we have to delve into another description in this parasha in which man is described as being created in the image of G-d.
And G-d created man in His image; in the image of G-d He created him;
(Genesis 1, 27)
This lofty description teaches us that man does not differ from other creatures merely due to his physical build or his intelligence, but rather in a much more fundamental way. While other creatures were created by G-d, man was created in His image, meaning – Man, by his very essence, is a divine creation. Undoubtedly, this conception sanctifies human life and creates for humans a world of values, morality, and mutual respect.
On the other hand, this transcendental awareness that humans are created in G-d’s image can also lead to man feeling as though he does not have to make any effort to attain divine perfection since it exists within him from the beginning; as though the significance of his existence is embedded in him from his inception and he has no goal for which he has to strive.
Rabbi Judah Loew, the Maharal, was a mekubal and philosopher in Prague in the 16th century. His philosophy inspired the Hassidic movement and others for centuries after his passing. The Maharal explained that the significance of man’s existence is fundamentally different from that of animals, as it is from that of angels, since both do not strive toward goals but live in existential completeness, each in its own way: angels in their exalted existence, and animals in their simple existence which is not dependent upon fulfilling a goal.
A human is utterly different. A divine seed is ingrained in every human but he must act and work to realize this seed before it sees light. A person who does not strive to realize the divine light within him has an existence devoid of purpose. However, a person who aspires to realize the divine light within him, reveals the transcendent layer of his existence: being created in the image of G-d.
Using this concept, the Maharal explains why, among all creation, only man (adam) is named for the dust of the ground (adama).
The ground has a special quality: In and of itself, it lacks content, but it conceals within it the power of growth and flourishing. A person can plant a single seed, which will eventually become a flower, a vegetable, or a fruit tree. Humans reflect this incredible trait of the ground. When man does not strive to realize the divine light within him, he becomes empty of significance; but he has the ability to make the divine seed within him grow, to illuminate it. Because of this characteristic that man shares with the dust of the ground, he is named for it.
This special significance of our existence as humans can accompany us on our shared journey toward this lofty goal: to grow, water, and nourish the divine spark within us.