Why Two Names for One Book?

Thereare two names in our tradition used to refer to the first of the Five Books of the Torah. The more common name is “Sefer Bereishis”, the book about the genesis of the universe. This is the story about the Divine input into creation and how that input generates and shapes the world in which we live. The less common name for this book is “Sefer Hayashar”. This is loosely translated as the book of the straight ones. The Talmud in Avodah Zarah teaches us that the intent of this second name is that it details the lives and the accomplishments of “the straight ones” the Patriarchs of the Jewish people. This is the story of how the input of humanity shapes and affects the unfolding destiny of our universe. How can it be that these two names seem to point to two completely counter opposed elements in our universe?

In a similar vein, the verse in Chapter 2: states and “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth in their creation on the day that Hashem Elokim made earth and heaven”. This verse is very peculiar in its grammatical structure but one of the most outstanding points in the verse is the switching of the order from “heaven and earth” at the beginning of the verse to “earth and heaven” at the end of the verse. The Malbim on the verse brings out a very fundamental point with regards to this change of order. This verse, which describes the very mechanics of the ongoing functioning of creation, comes to teach us that there are two main causative elements in the movement and development of the world. The first is “heaven and earth”, the element of Divine input into the universe guiding and steering events in history towards their ultimate destiny. This element is called “heaven and earth” because of the order in which the input comes into being. Initially it is generated in heaven – the spiritual dimension and then it affects earth – the physical dimension. The second is “earth and heaven”, the element of the input of humanity. Here too the Torah refers to it as “earth and heaven” because of the order in which the input comes into being. Initially it is generated in earth and then it affects heaven. These two elements are constantly at play in the unfolding of history and events “the generations” in the universe in which we live.

Interestingly, this principle seems to be at odds with the view of much of humanity. In the world today there are many who believe that the universe is the result of a cosmic coincidence, ultimately their position boils down to the recognition of only one causative element in the universe and that is the one of human input. The universe is to be studied and understood, sometimes reckoned with, but is ultimately “static” in nature. There are predictable patterns and systems in the universe that humanity is constantly at the forefront of discovering and harnessing until ultimately one day they will discover the unified theory explaining the full depth of understanding of the entire system thus allowing man to gain full sovereignty over it and use it for his purposes. Others believe that a Supreme Power is completely running the show and that man has no ability to effect the deeper course of events only the more superficial and material aspects of existence. Human beings can’t alter the course of events nor can they overcome their own nature and therefore ultimately they are helpless subjects of the great and overwhelming Supreme Power in the universe, whatever they choose to call it. The Torah is offering a middle position, that Hashem has balanced and gauged the development of the universe and of history to constantly be comprised of a combination of both elements, of the Divine and of the Human. David Hamelech put this principle into most eloquent terms when he said “Hashem is your shadow on your right side”. Rav Chaim Volozsin in his great work Nefesh Hachayim explains this verse to mean that Hashem has created man in His image. This means that just as Hashem has power to shape and change the course of the universe so does the man. Hashem made a policy decision at the time of creating the man that He would allow the man to hold the reigns in creation. Hashem so to speak would act as man’s shadow echoing back into creation the input for moving creation along in the direction that man wants to go. Obviously Hashem can, if His infinite wisdom decrees it fitting, reset and readjust the world when necessary to keep man from completely derailing it but the default programming of the world is that Hashem is shadowing us.

Shabbos – A Limited Partership

One of the most well known passages in the entire Torah is from this parshah. “And the heavens and the earth and all of their hosts were completed. And Hashem stopped creating on the seventh day and He rested on the seventh day from all of the work that He had done. And Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, for on it He rested from all of the work that He had created to do”. The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh explains that the meaning of the words “for on it” are superficially understood to mean that “on” the seventh day Hashem rested. The deeper meaning of the verse is “by means of the seventh day” He rested from all creative activity. Originally the six days of creation were not made to continue functioning but rather they would have gone back to nothingness. Shabbos is when Hashem infused the six days of creation with enough energy to keep going for another cycle of six days. This cycle continually repeats itself throughout the ongoing existence of the universe. If not for Shabbos Hashem would create the entire universe from scratch every week. He chose the seventh day as the vehicle through which He could infuse the necessary energy into the system that already exists to keep it going for another cycle thus avoiding the need to recreate it every week.

The Talmud in Shabbos   teaches that anyone who says the above passage on Friday night becomes a partner with Hashem in creating the world. At first glance this teaching seems extremely challenging to grasp. How could saying a few sentences grant a person such a lofty status the likes of which are generally reserved for colossal achievements? The Ohr Hachayim suggests that the meaning of this teaching is that one who keeps the spirit of Shabbos in the vain mentioned above has this status. Keeping Shabbos properly requires a great effort. One must learn a great deal in order not to desecrate any of the myriad laws of Shabbos. In addition there are numerous positive statutes that one must keep with regards to Shabbos as well. All of this must be done not only as a matter of rote, habit, or even keeping to the letter of the law but rather as an expression of the belief that Shabbos is the vehicle through which Hashem infuses the necessary energy into the world to keep it going for another six days. This has to become ones state of being on Shabbos, “I am a partner with Hashem in creation by keeping Shabbos”.

The Malbim takes this point one step further by presenting the following parable to illustrate the meaning of this passage. Once there was a very wealthy and generous man who built a yeshiva where many could sit and study Torah. He wanted to provide the scholars with a means of supporting themselves materially so that they could continue to pursue their development. Thus he commissioned the building of a vast array of machinery and industrial equipment which all ran on steam that could produce many useful products and he arranged that all of the profits from the sale of these products would go towards supporting the scholars in the yeshiva. The man made one condition which was that if the scholars should slack in their devotion to their studies the servants running the machines were to adjust the amount of steam fueling the machines thus lowering the productivity and output of the machines. The Malbim explains that the machines are the natural world that Hashem created and formed in the six days of creation. Left alone to function without stipulations this system can produce in an absolutely amazing fashion all of the needs of the inhabitants of this world. By “creating Shabbos” Hashem deliberately linked the productivity of the natural world to the input of humanity.  The lever to adjust the productivity on the machines represents Shabbos. Ultimately the Jewish people made a covenant with Hashem to keep the Shabbos. In doing so, we have accepted the responsibility to keep the world functioning at the highest possible level both spiritually and materially by serving Hashem and becoming His partner in creation.

Why Did Hashem Set Up the World With Room For a Partnership?

From the above introduction the question that emerges is why did Hashem deliberately make a world that was imperfect to begin with. Certainly Hashem is capable of making a world without lacking and without flaw, He doesn’t really need our partnership or our imput. Why make a man and a world that is yet incomplete, what gain is there in such an endeavor? The answer is one of the most fundamental principles of the Torah. Hashem is infinite; He therefore has no lack and certainly had nothing compelling Him to create the world.  As we say in the Yigdal prayer “b’eis nasoh b’cheftzo kol azai melech shmo nikra” – at the time when everything was created as a function of the “chefetz” – will of Hashem then He was called a King. The whole world did not need to be created; it is merely a function of the unbound and uncompelled will of Hashem. If so than Hashem really doesn’t need us nor can we do anything for Him. It follows that the point of creation is for our ultimate benefit and gain more than any other purpose.

Had Hashem created the world perfect and complete we would have been towering and lofty creatures basking in the divine presence. This sounds great but there is one catch, we wouldn’t know how to appreciate it since we would not have any idea what the alternative is. In order to give man perfection along with the ability to appreciate the true value of that perfection, Hashem decreed that the world and the man should be created initially incomplete. This flaw in man and in creation plays itself out constantly in our lives and in the events unfolding in the world in the form of opportunity for closeness to Hashem versus challenges, difficulties, brushes with negativity and evil and so forth. More fundamentally it plays itself out in the form of choices, thus allowing the man the free choice of which of these two paths he wishes to pursue. Once we are in the field of choice, the true value of achieving closeness to Hashem and gaining completion in ourselves and in the world becomes vividly real and evident. So to put it in other words, Hashem didn’t need a partnership. We needed a world which offers us the opportunity to have a partnership with Him in order to appreciate the value of a relationship with Hashem, and the ultimate pleasure that lies within this relationship.   

Challenging the Conventional Definition of “Paradise”

It seems that regardless of affiliation, everyone has an opinion about the meaning and significance of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Unfortunately without significant contemplation the depth of this passage and the application of the principles in it are elusive. At the beginning of the passage the Torah says “And Hashem took Adam and put him in Gan Eden to work it and to guard it”. One of the most significant points of observation in the whole passage is that man was originally created and formed outside of the Gan and only afterwards entered into it. The Midrash on this verse hones in on the word “Va’yikach” – and He took, and tries to understand the significance of this “taking”. The Midrash says that Hashem “took” Adam into the Gan by speaking to him and coaxing him to go in. This leads to a fundamental problem. Is the Garden of Eden not simply paradise in this world? Who in their right mind would need to be coaxed to enter into paradise? The Torah is clearly challenging the prevailing Websters dictionary definition of paradise, “a state or place of bliss or delight”. Paradise, for many, is a theoretical concept where there is pure unadulterated bliss and delight without strings attached and no responsibility. All pain, suffering, discomfort, and challenge are missing thus allowing this state of bliss. Who would need to be coaxed into entering such a state?

The Torah teaches us that there will be a state of existence as described above but only in the world to come not in this world. In this world we must work to develop ourselves and the world we are in to become that place and that state. The Garden of Eden is part of this world. What then is the nature of this place called the Gan, and what is the nature of the world outside of the Gan? Man is comprised of a soul and a body. The world is also comprised in tandem of a spiritual and a physical dimension. The spiritual dimension is referred to in Jewish texts as “heaven”, the physical dimension is referred to as “earth”. The nature of man’s experience before he entered the Garden was based on living an essentially “physical and material” existence. His spiritual dimension would only stand to serve that purpose. In the Garden, however, it was the opposite. There man’s soul and its aspirations would be the basis of his experience. His physical and material side would merely stand to serve the achievements that the soul yearns for. True that in the Garden man did not have to toil to make a living or establish shelter, nor was there any need for the amenities we are familiar with today which facilitate material comfort and ease, but that is only one side of the equation.

The Torah’s definition of paradise is a place or state where man can actualize and achieve his ultimate spiritual potential without the distraction of having to be concerned with furthering his material existence. The need for man to work and to face challenge is not diminished in the slightest, nor are the responsibilities or the consequences of his own actions removed from the equation of his life. Rather, in paradise all of these things are fully intact, yet what makes it paradise is the fact that he is not troubled at all with the mundane. Every aspect of life has depth to it, everything fits into the overall pursuit of the spiritual loftiness of the man, and if it doesn’t then it by definition takes him away from his goals. There is no neutral zone.

Another very fundamental detail in the passage is that man was placed in the Garden “to work it and to guard it”. How perplexing! Is it possible that in this paradise on earth, which Hashem made especially for Adam to experience the ultimate achievement of his spiritual potential, he should have to cultivate and tend to the trees in the Garden? The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh points out that this is in fact not the precise intent of the verse. Man does have to work the Garden but not through plowing and planting. This Garden was formed in such a way that based on the decisions Adam makes and how he chooses to live his life, the Garden will either flourish or wither. The Torah teaches us that because Adam was created in the image of G-d he therefore has the ability to affect not just the superficial and material aspects of the universe but he can shape and alter the very nature of the universe through his actions. Furthermore, Adam had the most amazing facet to his experience at this level. He was able to see in real time the direct correlation between his thought, speech, and actions in the Gan and how it affects the state of the world he lives in.

The Venom of the Serpent

One of the difficulties in dealing with the Garden of Eden centers around clearly understanding what the nachash – the serpent, is and how it affects Adam and subsequently all of humanity. What was the nachash using as firepower to persuade Adam and Chava to eat from the tree? After all they had a clear direct command from Hashem not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They understood that going in to Gan Eden meant to accept partnership with Hashem ad that their role was to complete themselves and the world as partners. The Classical Commentaries take slightly different approaches to explaining this but it all boils down to the same common denominator. One approach is that the nachash was asserting that the Almighty is way too lofty and far too removed from the universe to be directly invested in our day to day affairs. We are not partners with Him, He created us and our world but now He is involved in G-d things He can’t be bothered with us. We ultimately have to take destiny into our own hands and in doing so put G-d out of the picture very much the same way He put us out of His. Others suggest that the nachash was trying to feed on man’s insecurity that G-d is controlling his life. He is a totalitarian power freak. He doesn’t want you to eat from the tree because then you will grasp and understand the universe completely and pose a challenge and a threat to His supernal will in governing and directing the world. In other words, the nachash is trying to persuade Adam that either G-d doesn’t care what he does or He is trying to prevent man from taking control of his own life and the world. This seductive message either appeals to the aspect of man’s character that says nothing really matters so do what suits you best now, or to the aspect of his character that wants to rebel against the authority that is binding his life. The Torah is teaching that neither of these approaches are the straight and correct path. In fact Hashem wants us to take responsibility for ourselves and for the world. We have to do our part and He will do His part in bringing the world to its ultimate purpose. It is pointless to rebel against and futile to disregard this partnership.

The Difference Between a King and a Ruler

David Hamelech says in Psalms “For to Hashem is the Kingship, and He rules over the nations of the world”. The Vilna Gaon in Mishlei 27:27 explains that the difference between a King and a Ruler is that a King is someone who is beloved to the subjects of his kingdom. They accept the king’s decrees willingly. A ruler is someone who wields his power over his subjects even against their will even as he claims that his intent is for the greater good. Our sages therefore teach us that “there is no king without a nation”. The kingdom that proudly coronate their king raise their own name as they raise the name of their king. This is the kind of partnership we are meant to have with Hashem. If we are poisoned by the venom of the serpent and can’t see the value in this partnership, then God rules over the world anyway. This is the meaning of the verse in Psalms “Your Kingship is the Kingship of all of the universe, and your Rulership is in every generation”. If we choose to tap in to this partnership it is there for us always. Otherwise in every generation the Almighty still continues to Rule the world. What is really at stake is our own opportunity to have a share in this partnership with the Almighty.

Life Outside of the Garden

One might think that all of this is very nice but what relevance does it have to our lives today? We don’t live in this paradise that the Torah describes. We are in fact stuck in the monotony of the static world of nature we are constantly trying to master. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in his famous work Derech Hashem points out that this is not in fact the correct way to see the shift from the Garden of Eden reality to our reality today.

“…the effort now needed to achieve this perfection behold it is doubled, for now first the Adam and the world will now have to be brought back to the situation as they were in originally by the first Adam before his sin, and then from that situation they needs to be elevated to the ultimate level that they were meant to reach had Adam not failed his test”.

From here we see that nothing has really changed. The purpose of man’s creation and existence is the same as it was beforehand. Adam’s sin has just increased the amount of work we have to do to achieve the ultimate goals. We still affect every aspect of creation both on the physical and spiritual plane as did the first Adam. Whereas the first Adam was put in a situation where he did not have to struggle to bring home his daily bread, we have to struggle to support our own material existence as well. We are also not privy to see the real time consequences of our actions yet none of these facts are enough to justify our lack of fulfillment of our purpose in this world.

The Midrash in Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer mentions the following story to illustrate this point. There was once a fisherman who struggled to make ends meat. One day Eliyahu Hanavi approached this man and asked him why he doesn’t spend more time learning Torah. The man answered that he was not given the capabilities to sit and learn. Furthermore he is troubled with the responsibility to support his family by working all of the time. Eliyahu asked him how he managed to make a living. The man answered well I had to learn all about the tides and the feeding patterns of the fish. I had to learn all about the fishing nets and how to adjust them. I had to learn how to toss the net and how to pull it in at just the right time and many other details. I had to work day in and day out to perfect these skills until finally I am now able to make a living. Eliyahu says to him the same way you have learned and accomplished all of this is the way that you would have been able to sit and learn about how to serve Hashem and grow to reach your spiritual potential as well. The man immediately burst into tears and wept for a long time. Eliyahu tries to console the man with the following statement. You should know that every human being comes in front of the Almighty with this claim.

The First Sibling Rivalry- An Unlikely Battle of Worldviews

Another passage outlining the life of man outside the Garden is that of Kayin and Hevel. Many commonly think that the whole dispute between the brothers was superficial in nature, either it was an issue of whose offering is more pleasing to Hashem or as perhaps the Midrash indicates which of them was going to dominate the world. The Netziv, Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the great Rosh Hayeshiva of Volozsin brings out a much more subtle point in this passage. The grammar and syntax in the verse indicate that Kayin was born with a nature to be able to work the land and produce his family’s basic needs with ease. Hevel on the other hand was born with a natural talent and a cleverness to discover and produce all sorts of extras and luxuries that would make his family’s life not just satisfying but comfortable. Being that each one of these men saw his own individual way as “the natural course” of a man in Hashem’s world because they were born with an affinity for that way, they disagreed as to what was in fact the Derech Hashem. In the post Garden of Eden reality, where a person is dealing with a constant inclination to sin and to do evil, how should he arrange himself to achieve his full potential? Should he exert his efforts in producing only a basic and modest existence for himself thus freeing up time for spiritual refinement that will constantly keep him focused on the straight path, or alternatively should a person work to produce more for himself thus utilizing his creativity, his vast talent, and in doing so express his uniqueness and superiority over all of the other creatures and avoid sin by default?

Once the debate is set up in this manner it becomes difficult to understand how Hashem “chose” the offering, and thus the world view of Hevel, rather than that of Kayin. Are we not accustomed to thinking that the Torah way is to live simply and spend ones spare time and energy towards achieving higher and more exalted levels of connection to Hashem through spiritual pursuits? How could it be that Hashem is advocating that a person should expend all of his energy and resources in providing himself with a cushy living, even if in doing so he is arguably expressing greater depths of human capability to achieve this way of life?

The Netziv offers the solution to this problem in the ensuing verses. When Hashem came to Kayin after he saw that Kayin was depressed and enraged that Hashem had not accepted his offering, He says to him “if you do good you will be exalted, and if you do not do good then the yetzer horah will be waiting for you at the doorway”. Hashem is teaching Kayin a very fundamental point here. If you choose to live a simple life that is wonderful and ultimately the true way I wish for a man provided that, with all of the time you have freed up for yourself in living this way, you really use it to achieve your ultimate spiritual potential. If however you don’t use that time and you end up sitting and doing nothing with it, than it would have been better to be busy in the way of your brother who though he will never reach the ultimate spiritual heights he is nevertheless busy all of the time expressing the greatness of the lower soul and the vast and various physical capabilities of man. He is less likely to come to sin since he is constantly busy exerting himself. Ultimately he will develop the world further than you. You on the other hand though you have this free time to potentially grow and achieve the true purpose of man are much more vulnerable to sin since you will be faced with the challenge of having “plenty of time to kill”. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot teaches us the value of constantly remaining busy “a person should always learn Torah and be involved in providing a livelihood for only with the toil of both together is he impervious to sin”

There is no question that our responsibilities are extensive. The world is in need of so much development on so many levels to reach its ultimate destiny. We all have our hands full with so much to do, and much of it is just what is necessary to survive materially. Through all of this we can never forget that we are partners with Hashem in creation. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos teaches us that “the work is not upon you to finish, nor are you a free man to ignore it…”. We must try to find a way to transcend the monotony of life and reach further. We must find a way to elevate ourselves even if it is in one small point. Even one small effort joins together with so many others, both of our own and those of other people as well. It goes without saying that Hashem is doing His part as well. Together as partners we can make it we can achieve the ultimate.