What is the role of mankind? If we look into this Parsha, we
will find a combination of answers:
And G-d said, “Let us make man in our image and likeness. Let him dominate the
fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and the animals, and all the earth —
and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Bereishit 1:26).
Here, the human’s purpose is to control, to conquer, to
harness the forces of nature. Without the human in this role, these unchecked
forces might run wild — the most benign result would be an absence of positive
development, while the most cataclysmic result could be the destruction of
Hashem’s creation. Man is therefore “put in charge” in order to ensure the
future of the world. Ironically therefore, his mastery is also a kind of
servitude to other living things. Perhaps this is why he is forbidden (in
verses 29-30) to eat their meat. Only his resemblance to G-d, his “tzelem
Elokim,” elevates him above other creations.
A later account of the creation of man adds another dimension to his purpose:
And Hashem G-d took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it
and guard it (2:15).
Here, man’s purpose is to cultivate, to develop, to extract
creation’s potential without wasting its resources. He is commanded to be
creative, and this requires him to understand the fine distinctions that exist
in the world around him. Perhaps it is for this reason that he is also
commanded to exercise discrimination in his food, eating from all trees except
for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (verses 16-17).
Time and again, humans demonstrate their capacity for utilizing the
environment creatively, thus fulfilling their mandate to emulate Hashem. After
disobeying Hashem by eating the forbidden fruit, the man and woman, realizing
they are naked,
Sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves loincloths (3:7).
Hashem shows them how to improve on this by making them leather garments
(verse 21). The act of human reproduction is understood by Chava as a
partnership with the Divine (4:1; see Rashi). Their children are essentially
defined by their professions, which parallel the two accounts of man’s
Hevel became a shepherd, while Kayin was a worker of the soil (4:2).
Later, we learn of the development of other crafts. Six generations after
Kayin are Yaval, the ancestor of all those who live in tents and keep herds, .
. . Yuval, ancestor of all who play the harp and flute, . . . [and]
Tuval-Kayin, a maker of all copper and iron implements (4:20-22).
Mankind continuously improves on earlier developments, as taught in Berachot
Ben-Zoma used to say: “How many labors did the first Adam need to labor before
he had bread to eat? He plowed, sowed, harvested, made sheaves, threshed,
winnowed, refined, ground, sifted, kneaded and baked, and only then did he
eat. But I wake up and find all these when it is completed before me. And how
many labors did the first Adam need to labor before he found clothing to wear?
He sheared, whitened, combed, spun, wove, dyed and sewed, and only then did he
find clothing to wear. But I wake up and find all these when it is completed
before me. All the craftsmen persist in coming to my door, and I awake and
find all these before me.”
R. Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook comments on this (Ein Ayah II:286, p. 370):
“In terms of the division of labor that is required for the work of settling
the world, the differentiation of personalities is necessary. Therefore, the
Holy One Blessed be He suits each person’s profession to him (Berachot 43b).
One person will incline more towards the material and simpler needs, such as
bread to eat. Various occupations are related to this, each of which requires
a specific predisposition in order to define it and designate one person to be
devoted to it. For that predisposition his soul must be distinctive and suited
to it, and by means of it a change will be produced in his soul’s traits and
“All the more so is this true of the occupations that are more
distant from each other, such as the desire to providing human needs like
clothing. In these, beauty and ethics are combined with the material goal of
gravitating toward even more distinct and refined talents. This distinction
leads to distinctions of tendencies, traits and qualities.
“And what further shall we say of a profession that develops
into an art in the way that life unfolds into those things that serve only to
expand man’s mind, such as all the arts of beauty — drawing, music and the
like? These are skills whose distinct talents are impossible to produce except
by means of differences in personality. So, how can a person, for whose needs
are required many different and distinct qualities (including many
alternatives of mental abilities) imagine that it would have been better for
the world if all people would resemble him in qualities and feelings? From
this evil thought comes impatience, intolerance and misanthropy.
“Therefore [Ben Zoma] expressed his appreciation for each
person by focusing on the primary needs that differentiate those who
accomplish them in all their ways. Together they complete the function of
humanity: in the physical, “bread to eat”; in human necessities and ethical
tendencies combined with physical goals, “clothing to wear”; joined with the
talent to enlighten the mind and thought, in the skill of carpentry and
design, for the complexity of life.
“ ‘All the craftsmen who persist in coming to my door,’ bring
peace of mind and enlightenment into my private world. Therefore, I will love
all of them and honor each of them.”
Man’s purpose is to simulate Hashem’s creativity, which leads to blessed human
diversity, social and technological progress, and peace.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The first Rashi on Chumash imparts a most important message. Rashi asks,
the Torah should have begun with the first mitzvah (“Hachodesh haZah
lachem”); why then does it start with “Bereishit”? He answers that God
“has declared to his people the power of His works, that He may give them
the inheritance of the nations (Psalms 111:6).” The nations of the world
accuse Israel: “You are robbers; you have taken the land of the Seven
Nations!” But Israel responds: “The entire land belongs to the Almighty;
He created it and gave it to whom He saw fit.”
Rabbi Charlap in his “Mei Marom” notes that this happens whenever the Jews
return to the Holy Land; the nations say we are robbers (or in modern
parlance they say that this is “occupied territory”), and that this is
their land and not ours.
It is only when we appreciate the fact that this land is our land,
received from Hashem, that the claims of the nations are silenced. Only
when the Jew realizes and knows that, God “has declared to His people the
power of His works, that He may give them the inheritance of the Nations.”
Indeed the verse from Psalms does not read, “He has declared to the
nations” as we might expect; rather, “He has declared to His people (amo)”!
If we do not behave as if this land is ours, how can we expect others to
respect our claim?
Aloh Na’aleh has been founded with the mission of helping Jews realize
that Eretz Yisrael is God’s gift to us, and it becomes ours when we
actually possess it and dwell in it. Join us to make this dream come true!
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness
Jerusalem, Director of Aloh Naaleh
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320