Article contributed by JAM Rabbi Avner Engel
Does he need you?
To say such a thing would imply that G-d is lacking, which is the opposite of Judaism’s infinite, all-powerful G-d.
The only thing that we can deduce about the infinite is that by creating, he is doing an act of goodness for us without expecting anything in return. If creation was done to benefit us by the infinite — who by definition is all perfect — it follows that the giving that he would do would also be perfect. Since only G-d is perfect, the giving would have to be the giving of unity with him. However, if we were to achieve oneness with the infinite, while we would experience ultimate perfection, we would lose our own unique being. Therefore, it follows that the gift G-d has given us is the most perfection we, as separate beings, can achieve. The process to achieve this unity is to resemble the infinite as much as possible. Just like the infinite is the cause of everything, so it follows that an almost perfect unity would require us to be creators of our connection.
While G-d could have easily created us in a perfect angelic state, this would have minimized the perfection of his gift, so humanity is created so that we have control via free will of our unification with the infinite.
Thus, philosophically meaningful creation began with Adam and Eve, who were supposed to utilize their faculty of logic to overcome a test of free will and become the creators of their relationship to the infinite — in other words, to choose whether or not to eat from the forbidden fruit.
Yet their decision was influenced by three illogical biases. The snake said “if you eat from the tree you will be like the creator,” Eve looked at the tree and it looked good in her eyes, and finally, after falling for the fruit, she gave it to Adam to eat. When looking at the decision at hand, the creator said “do not eat,” so why are the outcome, the pleasure, and the desire not to be alone relevant factors in the logical process?
This breakdown in the relationship is in three areas: man and the infinite (ego — “you will be like the creator”), man and self (lust — “it looked good in her eyes”), and man and man (jealousy — “giving to Adam”).
To put it in other terms, a person’s spouse wants them to do the right things in a relationship: listen, care, put them first, share themselves, remain faithful, and more. Yet we want it to come from themselves and not because they have no choice. However, this freedom allows for the reality of conflicts, which then demands not only for the spouse to make up for the fight, but also to build the relationship from their own initiative.
With the failure of Adam and Eve to utilize their free will for the purpose of creation, the task for humanity was twofold: to rectify these three newly created relationship problems, and only then to make one step in the right direction (listen to the creator as opposed to the biases).
The attempt by society was with the second generation, Cain and Abel. An important idea is that the word for name in Hebrew is shem — the same root as sham, which means “there,” because names are not merely a flow of sounds, but a description of the essence or endpoint. Cain means jealousy, and Abel means nothingness. Cain failed to rectify the breakdown of man to man relationships caused by his parents, and killed his brother.
Being sent out of the garden to work by the sweat of their brows had negative consequences. Humankind’s need to provide for physical necessities takes up a larger part of life, and emphasizes the animal within himself, seeing the mind only as a tool for gratifying his desires, and seeing his own pleasures as a divine goal worthy of human striving. This idea climaxed with the generation of the flood — their sin was the total breakdown of self-control. Noah made the exception, his name meaning “at rest,” the opposite of lustful desire, but could not translate this personal victory to a societal one or one that carried on to the next generation.
The new generation of men should have learned to acknowledge their divine purpose, but their ability to rule over nature deceived them into thinking they could dispense with G-d in their new life, leading to the Tower of Babel or the societal inability to fix ego. Never again does G-d want to destroy mankind; rather, he wants to educate humanity — through its experiences — to knowledge of their divine goal. In order to achieve this, they must never again be allowed to reach total degradation; thus, they are split up in language and ideology and spread about so single group can infect the whole.
At this juncture, society has proven its inability to overcome the relationship flaws created by Adam and Eve, causing a splitting into 70 languages and worldviews. However, there is one exception — Abraham, who not only personally overcame jealousy (by living by the motto of extreme kindness to all), but also passing it on to Isaac, one of his two children, who at the age of 37 allowed himself to become a human sacrifice and overcame the flaw of self-control. He too passed this on to one of his two children, Jacob, who overcame ego by constantly seeking the will of the infinite. With this family’s overcoming and successful transmission to all their children (the 12 tribes of Israel), they ingrained a propensity, passed on by a cultural identity, to stand firm against the norms of society and exemplify the traits of their ancestors.
It is their mission to show the world that spiritual purpose transcends physical, but not at its expense. It is for this reason that a family of 70 with no wrongdoings was thrown into harsh Egyptian slavery — to instill an underdog mentality so that their mission never leads them to hubris.
However, we must keep in mind that the goal has always been for humankind to have a perfected relationship with the infinite. The Jewish people have the cultural identity that creates responsibility, not superiority. The opposite is true — someone with high intelligence who fails to utilize it for good is classified as inferior to someone with low potential who overcomes it. Any individual may take on the task to bring the world to a deeper connection with the infinite — the Jewish people’s cultural history demands it.
We raise our children to cherish their uniqueness, and to encourage it is to give strength and courage to achieve. We do not need a homogenized society; rather, we need an appreciation of the gifts that each culture and heritage brings to the table.
When is pride dangerous? When it leaves no room for others. When is pride beneficial? When it creates responsibility and urgency to help mankind.