The pinnacle of Hashem’s creation of the universe is the formation of the human being. The Torah presents the account of Man’s creation twice, because it wishes first to describe the human in a general sense, within the context of Creation as a whole: And G-d created Man in His image; in the Image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them (Bereishit 1:27). Then, after Hashem’s blessing to Man, the first Shabbat and a summary of all Creation (1:28-2:5), the Torah’s narrative returns to the subject of Man, focusing on the specifics of how he was created: And a mist rose up from the earth and watered the entire surface of the soil. And Hashem G-d formed Man, of dust from the ground (HA’ADAMAH), and He blew into his nose the soul of life; so Man became a living being (2:6-7).
The process leading to the making of Man gives us insight into human nature. Water was mixed with dust, then formed into the human, as Rashi explains: “And a mist rose from the earth — … He caused the deep to rise and fill the clouds with water in order to soak the dust. Man was created in the manner of a kneader (of dough) who adds water and then mixes the dough. So here: (first) He watered and afterwards He formed.”
Adam was made, not of pure dust, but of clay. The Torah emphasizes that he was composed of dust from the ground (HA’ADAMAH), as if the ground (HA’ADAMAH) were somehow special, yet it does not say which ground was used.
What is the origin of this dust?
Two approaches are found in the teachings of the
Sages. One (found in Tanchuma Pekudei 3, Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer
11 and Sanhedrin 38b) says that the dust came from all over
the earth (HA’ADAMAH), while another (found in
Bereishit Rabba 14:8 and Yerushalmi Nazir 7:2) says that the
Rashi cites both views (v.7, of dust from the ground): “He gathered the dust from the entire earth, from the four directions, so that wherever he might die, it (the earth) will receive him (KOLATITO) for burial. Another explanation: He took the dust from the place about which is said, An altar of earth (ADAMAH) shall you make for Me (Shemot 20:21): ‘Would that it (i.e, earth of the Altar) be expiation for him and he will be able to endure.’ ” (It is interesting to note that, like Rashi, Targum Yonatan ben-Uzziel includes both approaches.)
The Maharal of Prague (R. Yehudah Loew ben Betzalel, c. 1525-1609), in his Gur Aryeh commentary on Rashi, analyzes these concepts thoroughly. The notion that wherever a person dies the earth “will receive him (KOLATITO)” means more than that. After all, by its nature, the earth will absorb the body, even, animals – which were also formed from the earth (2:19) – also decompose in it.
Rather, Rashi refers specifically to burial – meaning putting away for the future – which is relevant only to the human being, for techiyat ha’meitim (the revival of the dead) applies only to humans.
Man was formed of the dust of every place on earth,
and then kneaded into clay—whereas dust is diverse,
yet uniform, clay is united. The human being’s
existence is thus all-encompassing; his nature
embraces all of existence. His capabilities are not
limited to, nor determined by, his nature
Rashi’s second explanation, that the dust was taken
from the place of the Altar, would seem to preclude a
person’s body from being “received” everywhere in the
world. But this is not so. The site of the Altar is the
It is characteristic of Maharal’s approach to Rashi that, rather than seeing disagreement in the two views, he finds a way to harmonize them. So, human universality is the key to human uniqueness, and vice versa.
At the moment of his creation, the human being is
reminded of his mortality, but simultaneously he is assured
that he will live again (techiyat ha’meitim). Because he is
endowed, at the moment of creation, with free will, a
The human being is compounded from the dust and imbued
with “breath” from G-d. Unlike every other created entity,
he straddles two realms. The human being is a merging of
the earthly and the Divine, the animal and the angelic, the
base and the ideal, giving him the potential either to sink
Man’s uniqueness stems from his having been created in
the Image of G-d, but the fact that humanity has been
granted access to an “Image-of-G-d-awareness” is an
extra measure of human uniqueness. Does every person