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By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky | Series: | Level:

Human beings share an underlying similarity and unity, rooted in the perfection inherited from Adam, while having very different human manifestations of that perfection. Adam was created as an individual, while his descendants increased and multiplied, so they can’t be identical to Adam. He was a single and unique individual, while they increased and became many, requiring that each one have an element of individuality differentiating him from others. As people multiplied, these new human beings embodied within themselves something that hadn’t existed within Adam: The quality of “increase.” (As the single and original man, that was one characteristic that had to be lacking in Adam.) And each succeeding generation was unique in relation to the previous one in how it manifested this quality of “increase.” (The “first” is unique relative to the “second,” which is unique relative to the “third,” etc.) But had man not been created as one individual, and the human species had instead begun with many men, then the quality of “many,” of “increase,” which would appear in succeeding generations, wouldn’t have been a qualitative transformation, but simply a continuation of what had fundamentally been in existence, since there were always “many” men.

In addition, having man initially created as an individual endows humanity with the fundamental quality of each person’s offspring having “individuality.” Each of these newly created human beings is included under the classification of “Adam,” and G-d mints each from the mold of the first “Adam.” But since a quality of the first “Adam” was that of being an individual, each human being minted from his mold must also have some unique element of individuality. This is something no mortal can accomplish: Using one mold to mint many coins, while having every coin be produced with the true uniqueness of being an individual.

(This section of the Maharal should give us pause to reflect on the nature of conformity and individuality in our culture. What makes each of us an individual? Is it our clothes, hair styles, cars, or social contacts? Or is it something within our essence, rooted in our special role in the world, our special connection with G-d that no one else has? How would our self-esteem differ if we recognized ourselves as descendants of Adam, each of us created with some unique quality of individuality, charged with fulfilling a unique Divine mission, with no one else having the ability to fulfill this mission, and no one else being given our unique set of characteristics that would enable him or her to do it? This perspective of man is the Torah perspective, and it locates our true individuality in the essence of our personalities, in the inner world of our spiritual component, and not in our externals or in socially designated ways of standing out from the crowd.)

We are taught “Therefore, each person must say ‘For me was the world created,'” since the fundamental wisdom of the design of the world dictates that man should be created as an individual. One man represents the entire world, which is different than other species, where no individual element embodies everything, the way it does with man. (See our explanation in Parts 1 and 2 of this Mishna, which explains how the purpose of man’s creation can be accomplished by one individual.)

But since every man (potentially) represents the purpose and fulfillment of creation, and he is supposed to say “For me the world was created,” he could reach the conclusion that he is the only one worthy of being in the world, leading him to “swallow alive” everyone else, until he is left by himself.

(Thinking carefully about this human quality can help understand why human beings seem to be the only creatures that kill and destroy one another without any tangible purpose or gain. It is a corruption of our humanity, but built on an intuitive sense about man’s uniqueness. And even when we don’t kill others, we frequently cause them damage purely out of a careless disregard for their welfare. From where does such insensitivity come? One source could be the arrogant nature of man, viewing himself as the center and purpose of the world. Yet the Mishna’s choice of metaphor, “swallowing alive” says something more than just “killing.” The implication isn’t that I want to rid the world of the person, but that I want to subsume within myself whatever he represents, using it for myself.)

In response to this justifiable perspective of man, we are taught that fear of the government is necessary to prevent this anarchy. For the “king” (either as an individual, or as a governing body) unites the disparate and varied elements of a society, serving as its unifying and ruling force.

The lesson of Rebbe Chanina is logically positioned here, following the Mishna teaching us to deeply contemplate three things: our origin, our destination, and before Whom we will be called to give an accounting. For man’s nature is one of arrogance, and, left unchecked, can lead to him to consume alive his fellow man . So, after teaching us the need to contemplate things which will limit man’s arrogance, through an internal process, we are taught the need to pray for the welfare of the government, which provides an external control to the negative consequences of man’s potential arrogance. Man’s correct recognition of himself as the purpose of the world creates the potential to strive to be the exclusive and controlling force in the world, leading him to consume everyone else alive (controlling and using it for his exclusive agenda). So, in addition to the needed internal contemplation, it is also necessary that there be external controls on man’s potential arrogance which could lead to his destructive control of others.

An additional reason for the placement of this Mishna here is the fact that Akavia ben Mehalalel and Rebbe Chanina were contemporaries, so their lessons were taught sequentially. This explanation would account for the placement of the next Mishna, the lesson of Rebbe Chanina ben Tradyon, who also lived at approximately the same time.

The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky,Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, YeshivatDarche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.