Partners In Perfecting The World


Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat candles: 7:06 p.m.
Torah: Leviticus 9:1-11:47
Haftarah: II Samuel 6:1-7:17
Havdalah: 8:07 p.m

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik writes in “Halachic Man”: “Man, the creature, is commanded to become a partner with the Creator in the renewal of the cosmos; complete and ultimate creation — this is the deepest desire of the Jewish people.”

Is it really possible for man to actually partner with the Creator of the world? Two commentators go even farther. They suggest, perhaps somewhat radically, that God actually needs man to complete His creation.

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter (1847-1905), the second rebbe of Ger, in his commentary, “Sefat Emet,” quotes a Midrash which suggests that the word “day” (referring to the day of the dedication of the Mishkan) in the opening verse of Parshat Shmini connects to two other verses in Scripture that use “day.” The first, “And there was evening and there was morning, one day” [Genesis 1:5]. And the the second, “Go forth and gaze, O daughters of Jerusalem, upon King Solomon, upon the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his marriage, on the day of his hearts delight” [Song of Songs 3:11].

The Midrash teaches that on the “day” when the Mishkan was dedicated, there was “joy before God in heaven like that of the day when heaven and earth were created.” What these “days” share is the feeling of joy.

The Sefat Emet suggests that the reason for so much joy in heaven was due to the repentance of the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf. This repentance opened the way for the building of the Mishkan and the dwelling of the Divine Presence in the people’s midst. Repentance was a new path in the world, which prepared the way for future generations. The Children of Israel, through repentance, set forth a way by which even the weak who had turned crooked would be able to return to the straight path.

God is perfect and does not err and therefore cannot completely teach the world about repentance. Only the imperfect creatures could bring this possibility to fruition. The world would not have been able to continue to exist without the possibility of repentance. It is precisely the weakness and flawed nature of man that is needed by God in order for the world to continue to exist.

Soon after the dedication ceremony, sin struck again. Nadav and Avihu bring a “strange fire” to the altar and are, in turn, struck down by a heavenly fire.  Despite witnessing this tragic death of his two sons, the Torah says that “Aaron was silent,” suggesting an almost serene acceptance of his lot.

A puzzling Midrash says that Aaron, instead of remaining silent, could have responded by reciting the verse, “And on the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised” (Leviticus 12:3]. What connects this verse to Aaron’s silence? The Talmud questions why a man is not born already circumcised, answering that God desires that human beings act to perfect what He has created. Thus, a boy is born in an imperfect physical state but human action can, through circumcision, bring about the desired state. The Midrash asserts that this could have been used by Aaron as a defense for Nadav and Avihu’s sin.

There is a general rule stated in the Talmud, that “even though fire descends from heaven it is [also] a mitzvah to bring it from a common source.” The Kohanim were commanded to keep a fire burning perpetually on the Altar. Even though that fire was originally fueled by heavenly fire, burning continuously, the Kohanim are still required to add common fire. 

Similar to circumcision, man’s active creative role is indispensable in the Tabernacle service. Even though the fire necessary for the consumption of the sacrifices is present, the sacrificial offering is invalid without the Kohanim having an active role in its consumption. Nadav and Avihu could have innocently but erroneously assumed that, based on this law, they were required to bring their own fire on that fateful day.

The point of the Midrash is not to either defend or incriminate Nadav and Avihu but rather to teach that God requires man’s active partnership and creativity in order to bring about a perfected world.

Our daily prayers include the words, “How great are your creations, O Lord.” God Himself declares that everything He created was “very good.” Despite God’s absolute perfection, He still demands or, dare we say, needs man’s active involvement in bringing about a more perfect world.

Rabbi David Fine is the founder and dean of the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics in Modiin, Israel.