LTTN med xp logoFrom the Riches of the Oral Tradition

by Rabbi Chaim Richman

1995 Light to the Nations, Rabbi Chaim Richman - All Rights Reserved
Reprinted from The Restoration newsletter, May, 1995 (Iyar/Sivan, 5755)

Secrets from the Book of Genesis - Part 1


Man’s Understanding of G-d

When one seeks to draw closer to G-d in true and pure service, many times the individual is confronted by feelings of inadequacy. The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides writes that by contemplating the greatness of G-d as seen through nature, we can come to greater levels of love and fear of G-d... two aspects of true Divine service. But yet, when we contemplate the greatness of G-d, especially as reflected in the act of creation, we are overwhelmed and awed, and it is only natural for a man to think to himself: “Who am I, that I should deserve to have a relationship with the Master of the Universe altogether? What on earth does He need me for, and I in my sorry state, how can I stand before Him?” These feelings are not unique or unusual; they are the normal reaction of any person who honestly begins to seek out G-d with commitment... for King David, the sweet psalmist of Israel and the anointed King, was himself confronted by these very same feelings, and so was moved to write: “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” (Psalms 45:5) And the truth is, how can we, as mere human beings with our limited intellect, relate to G-d? How can we even so much as attempt to understand Him? After all, the Holy One, Blessed be He, has no beginning and is without end. He is the source of all life, the Creator of heaven and earth and all reality, who willed forth all of existence from nothing at all - in an instant. Is it not perhaps arrogant for a mere mortal to assume that he can draw close to the Al-mighty and serve Him?

Yet this is precisely what G-d commands us to do... over and over again. Just a few examples:

The last verse we have mentioned should be of particular interest. “Clinging to G-d” is a very thought-provoking, and beautiful concept... an entire way of life. But yet, G-d is described as “a consuming fire.” “Be careful that you do not forget the covenant that the L-rd your G-d made with you... the L-rd your G-d is a consuming fire, a G-d demanding exclusive allegiance...” (Deut. 4) If so, then how can we cling to Him? The sages of Israel teach us that the way to cling to Him is to cling to - and emulate and follow - His attributes... His Divine character traits. To act like in Him in our lives as much as possible.“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6) This is considered the most uplifting and truly spiritual religious experience that a person can have... the ability to imitate the Divine. We are instructed to be merciful, just as He is merciful; just as He clothes the needy, so are we required to do so. Indeed, can there be a greater imitation of G-dliness than the power of procreation with which He has entrusted man to populate His world? Through our actions during the great and small events that make up the stuff of our lives, we have the opportunity to cling to G-d and draw close to Him in fear and love, emulating His own ways and sanctifying His name through our performance of His commandments.

The Divine Names of G-d - Understanding His Identity

Another way in which the Holy One allows us to try and comprehend Him is through His Divine names...

the various ways He is referred to - indeed, the way He refers to Himself - throughout the writings of the Bible. These are His identities, and they also carry a great deal of significance and meaning... for each Divine name signifies a different attribute or trait; a different way through which He relates to us and the world, and allows us to understand Him. These names are obviously very powerful, since He has chosen to manifest Himself through them, and used them to create the universe. (This is also connected to the secret of the “Urim Ve’Thummim,” the breastplate of the High Priest in the Holy Temple, and how he was able to receive Divine guidance to questions which were posed on the congregation’s behalf ... through the power of the sacred Name of G-d).

Hebrew - The Language of Creation

As many are aware, when we have the blessed opportunity to study the sources of the Bible in Hebrew, we can gain so much more knowledge and understanding... for it is not only the language of the prophets, but it is the holy tongue - the language the Bible was written in. Every word, and even every letter and its strokes, contains meaning and import. It is the language through which G-d created the world, and obviously even the best of translations cannot possibly do justice to every nuance and allusion which it contains. Through the letters of the holy Hebrew alphabet, the Supreme Author Himself cries out to us to seek Him out, to recognize His fingerprints!

The Divine Names and the Creation of the World

The very first verse of the Bible informs us, “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) The depths contained within this verse are unfathomably vast. Its interpretation fills entire volumes of scholarship, representing centuries of carefully guarded traditions and teachings, and we still only barely scratch the surface of understanding The Creation! The entire universe, including all its myriad life forms, and generations of untold potential, all brought forth at once by the sheer force of the will of the Holy One... words uttered by the mouth of G-d.

In the original Hebrew, it would be revealing to see which Divine name G-d chose to use to describe Himself in the act of creation... for this would indicate to us which attribute He used to relate to His

creation. As we mentioned earlier, there are a number of Divine names, and each one carries different meaning. The verse teaches us that the Name used by G-d to create the world is His identity of 'Elo-him.'

The Attribute of Justice

On a deep level of understanding, the name “Elo-him” carries a connotation of judgment and a certain strictness through which the Creator views His world. In Hebrew, this is referred to as “Midat Ha-Din," literally “the attribute of justice,” and it is that aspect of Divine retribution through which the Holy One metes out punishment to those who transgress His commandments.

Reward and Punishment

The concept of reward and punishment is one of the foundations of existence. The world could not exist without justice, and it is described by our sages as one of the pillars which upholds the universe. G-d was aware of its necessity when He created the world, and made it an integral part of the fabric of existence.

This means that all of the Holy One's creatures are subject to the scrutiny of His exacting justice, without exception... not even the angels of heaven are exempt. All are called to give an accounting and reckoning of their actions before the Supreme Judge. But, of course, the angels are not judged according to the same standards by which G-d judges humanity...

Existence Contains Three Distinct Spiritual Levels

For three separate levels of life exist which possess a living soul: the animal kingdom, man, and the angelic beings. Each level is judged according to its respective spiritual stature... not in comparison to the other.

The soul of an animal is spiritually on a very low level. The makeup of the animal soul is such that it is completely connected to the physical world, the lower, darker nature... with no inherent “good inclination”. Therefore, we are taught, they can receive no punishment for their actions... for they are guided entirely by the most basic instincts and drives. They are totally devoid of a higher nature.

Angels are found on the opposite extreme of the spectrum. These are completely spiritual beings, possessing no evil inclination. They have no connection to the physical world whatsoever. Man is the only creature whose life is a tightrope walk between these two worlds, and all throughout his existence he finds himself locked in a constant struggle between opposing forces. His body, hewn from the earth, is the seat of the darker, physical nature which tries to pull him down, like gravity, in that direction. His G-dly soul, which is a very part of G-dliness itself, seeks to elevate him by subjugating his physical side to the spiritual. His life constantly puts him in situations where he must choose between the two... between good and evil. G-d tests each one of us every single day of our lives, to see what we will choose... but we also believe that He never tests us with something which we cannot overcome, something too difficult. If He tests us, it’s because we can pass... He believes in us, but do we believe in Him - enough? “See! Today I have set before you a free choice between life and good on one side, and death and evil on the other... I call heaven and earth as witnesses! Before you I have placed life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life!” (Deut. 30: 15-19). This battle forms the backdrop of man's entire life.

The Administration of the World - Through Justice and Mercy

Does the name used in the opening account of creation, “Elo-him”, the name of justice, mean that G-d does not deal mercifully with the world? In truth, G-d does not administer His world through justice alone, but through a combination of justice and mercy, “midat ha-din”, pure and severe justice, and “midat ha-rachamim”, lovingkindness. But as was mentioned above, the True Judge does not apply the same standard of measure to everyone. The type of judgment with which those who dwell in the heavens are weighed is harsh indeed. Because of their lofty and exalted nature, G-d expects far more from them; their actions are scrutinized much more intently then those of men. On the contrary, in spite of - and because of - the fact that they have no evil inclination, the manner of their judgment is very severe. The Talmud (BT Chagigah 15:A, BT Bava Metzia 85:B) gives several examples of harsh punishments which were meted out to the angels for unintentional mistakes... mistakes for which humans would never be held responsible.

G-d judges these angels according to their status. As far as the heavens are concerned, there is no “midat ha-rachamim”; their deeds are examined by G-d solely through the perspective of pure justice. They are extended no Divine mercy. And so the first verse of the Bible, Genesis, refers only to the aspect of 'Elo-him,' which is 'midat ha-din,' and is not joined together with the aspect of mercy. For this verse refers only to the manner in which G-d judges the heavens... man, on the other hand, because of his intrinsically base nature, would never live up to these standards. If he were judged only according to the strict criterion of 'midat ha-din,' with no added aspect of mercy, he would be found perpetually guilty in G-d's eyes. Neither he nor his world could ever survive. As far as earthly justice is concerned, this is reflected by the later verse, “On the day in which Hashem (YHVH, the L-rd; the name which denotes Divine mercy) Elo-him made the earth...” (Gen. 2:4) For man, who dwells on the earth and is in fact hewn from the physical world, could not endure G-d's judgment if it were not combined with Divine mercy as well. In this way, G-d in His infinite wisdom administers justice to each respective level of creation according to its nature... through a combination of both attributes. And so the judgment which man receives is an admixture of justice and mercy together.

This "partnership” of justice tempered with mercy also teaches us that G-d may choose to circumvent the harsher judicial process of 'Elo-him' and 'judge' an individual through the aspect of mercy... for this is also judgment.

No One Can Escape Responsibility For His Actions

At the same time, it must be understood that no person in this world can ever escape from G-d's system of justice. It is impossible for even a single living soul to somehow receive 'diplomatic immunity', forfeiting accountability. No strings can be pulled; no special arrangements can be made. For G-d will not release anyone from that awesome, ultimate reckoning: Justice. But - if G-d chooses to judge with compassion... that is His prerogative, and is also considered justice. In a precise formula, G-d employs the two Divine attributes of mercy and justice to function together in harmony and unity.

Tradition teaches that G-d created the world through the aspect of Elo-him/Judgment, but since He is utterly compassionate and understands the nature of His creations, He saw that this world could not withstand such a pure, unadulterated brand of justice, and so He tempered it with 'rachamim,' Divine mercy. From the very beginning, when G-d performed the act of creation, He forged an aspect of compassion into the very structure of justice itself. The partnership of justice and mercy means that G-dly justice is cloaked in a merciful garb... it is justice seen through the eyes of mercy.

This can have a variety of ramifications in the course of our lives. It may mean that G-d will seek a way of visiting punishment upon a person in a manner which is less difficult for the individual to withstand; so that the person will get what he deserves, but in a way as to make it easier for him to deal with. For example, a punishment might be delivered in stages, as opposed to in one fell swoop; or, it may be postponed, rather than immediate. But as a rule, G-d’s justice is perfect; all that one ever receives is that which he deserves. In that sole moment of Divine creation which was both eternal and timeless, the Holy One, outside of time, “saw” that the world would indeed need to stand on justice. But in that great moment of creation - G-d's moment - the Creator of man and his world, who alone knows their hearts and minds, laid the foundation for all human life... justice they could live with; compassionate, merciful justice.