Thursday, February 3, 2011

Beloved is Man

Reading the account of creation in Genesis, one is struck by the fact that, while most of the world came into being in masses -- swarms of bugs, flocks of birds, herds of cattle, swaths of grass -- the creation of man is uniquely singular. While G-d may have His own unfathomable reasons for doing this, what possible lessons could we glean from this?

"G-d originally created only one man, to teach that killing one person is like destroying an entire world, and saving one person is like saving an entire world.
Also, this promotes peace among people; one cannot say 'My progenitor was created before yours'...Also, this shows the greatness of G-d: if a person makes a stamp to mint coins, they all look the same; G-d made all people in the mold of Primordial Adam, yet no two people look alike. Therefore, everyone must say 'the world was created for me'
. "
Sanhedrin 37a

What is it about the fact that no two people look alike that is so significant that bears mention by the Talmud? There are surely deeper differences between people -- opinions, beliefs, ideals, fears, hopes. Why focus on something so superficial? The holy language of Hebrew reveals the underlying dimension to have different faces. The word for face is "panim." Vowelized slightly differently, "pnim" means inner. Why does Hebrew use the same root word for something outside - the face, and to indicate inner or inside?

"The face is called panim while the inner world of a person is called pnim. This is because the face reflects what is deeper and inside. “We can ‘read’ a person’s thoughts on his face … the very physical human face is capable of reflecting the soul to the eye that’s sensitive enough to read it."
Daat Tevunot 2:9

Far from being a superficial difference, these variations in eyes and noses from race to race, person to person, are a sign of each person's unique nature, personality, and talents. No two people look the same because no two people are the same. Unfortunately, many of us spend our lives oblivious to who we are, our particular talents and gifts. Instead of uncovering our authentic selves and setting out to fulfill our mission, we fall into self-identity traps.

We define ourselves by others:“If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am and you are. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not and you are not.”Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk

We allow others to define us:

“I went into a store and the saleslady said, ‘If you need anything, I’m Jane.’ And I said, ‘Wow, I’ve never met anyone with a conditional identity before. If I don’t need anything, who are you then?’”Demetri Martin

We try to ignore our true self to focus on unrealistic aspirational selves:

Reb Zusha of Anipoli told his students: When I come to Heaven and they ask me "Why weren't you like Abraham our forefather?" I will answer: "because I wasn't Abraham." If they inquire: "Why didn't you match the greatness of Moses?" I can answer that I wasn't Moses. Even If they try to compare me to my brother Reb Elimelech, I can still say that I wasn't Elimelech. However, If they ask me why I wasn't the way Zusha needed to be... to that I have no answer.

Why do we engage in these dodges? Perhaps because admitting who we truly are and what we could accomplish is so overwhelming that we are frightened. Instead of taking on the weighty task of fulfilling our potential, we seek refuge in "I can't." Perhaps our fear of failure is so great, that we take consolation in, "If I had tried." Maybe our childhood messages drowned out our inner voice of competence and courage. Perhaps a partner or life circumstances have sapped our strength and zest, sending us down a spiral of helplessness and hopelessness.

For all these reasons, it's important to know the Torah's view of each person and his abilities:
[Rabbi Akiva] would say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, "For in the image of G-d, He made man" (Genesis 9:6).
Avot 3:14

“The most important principle in one’s life is to recognize and know the value of a person as set forth in the Torah. From the awareness of one’s greatness, one can have an awareness of the spiritual goals and duties of the human being...”
Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Sher
  • Many people connect identity crises with the teenage years. Can adults also experience identity crises? How do these manifest?
  • Why does the Torah feel compelled to tell us how beloved we are?
  • What does it mean to you, to be created in G-d's image?

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