We live in a selfish world, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We were created selfish and we die selfish. We were brought into the world separate and individual, and we leave this world separate and individual. My use of the word selfish is obviously literal rather than colloquial.
The most obvious expression of our innate selfishness was the creation of the two sexes, male and female. Had G-d wanted humanity to be singular, undivided, and selfless, He would never have separated the original Adam into its two components of Adam and Chava.
At first glance, the story of Adam and Chava is an anomaly within the record of creation. The original Adam did not fit the pattern of creation. Everything in the recorded story of creation proclaims separation and distinction. As the Ramban explained, the story began with Tohu Vavohu – confusion and entanglement – Hilo (primal soup?). Therefore, the stated “six days of creation” were more accurately six days of separation. They involved G-d separating the individual components of the universe into distinct entities. Yet, the human was first created as Adam, a bisexual, single, indistinct, organism.
The male and female components of all species, vegetative, fish, fowl, and animal are presumed and therefore unstated in the story of creation. Not so in the creation of the human. (1:27) “Male and female created He them.” The Torah’s emphasis of this is unparalleled. First the Torah says, “Male and female created He them.” Then the Torah tells us the story of “The Adam – single and bisexual.” Then the Torah states, “It is not good for (the original, bisexual) Adam to be alone,” and relates the separation of Chava from Adam.
More so than that, although G-d desired the male and female human to be separate and distinct from each other, He designed the world to be inhabited by families. Continuity of the human race, and by extension, all of the universe (because the universe was created for the sake of humanity), depends on the joining of the male and female human into the single unit of family. Therefore, although the male and female were created as separate and distinct entities G-d intended for the willful union of male, female in order to accomplish “Tov – completion and wholeness.” In contrast to all the other species who mate instinctually, the human mates willfully and decisively.
The intentional joining of the separate entities male and female, which the verse calls, “And they will be as one flesh,” happens when man and woman join G-d in the creation of a new life. The intimate nature of that partnership explains why attraction between the sexes is so passionately powerful and why the Torah and the Rabbi’s established so many safeguards surrounding sexuality and marriage. It represents the Sof Maaseh – the goal that G-d had always intended in creating the human male and female. It also stands to reason that G-d’s intended goal was procreation.
There are many examples in nature of committed relationships between the male and female components of a species; however, we are most familiar with our own species. In our psychological and sociological makeup, loneliness and the fear of being alone play a powerful part in the dynamics of our relationships. This is the meaning of “Lo Tov – it is not good for the human to be alone.”
“Although created separate and apart, I G-d have designed them to want and need each other. On the one hand, I made them separate; on the other hand, I want them to willfully join together.”
G-d’s purpose in doing so was to emphasize the importance of each partner in accomplishing the joint goal of procreation and family. There are three ways to accomplish G-d’s intended goal for humanity: giving birth, adoption, and teaching. Giving birth to a child is the most obvious. Regarding adoption, the Talmud states, “If you raise an orphan as part of your own family it is considered as if you gave birth to him.” Regarding teaching, the Talmud states that, “students are called children.” Therefore, regardless of physical limitations everyone has the chance to join G-d in continuing the human race and accomplishing His purpose for creating the universe.
It makes sense that an endeavor as important as universal existence and continuity would demand willful participation. G-d is not looking for reluctant partners. G-d desires partners who are equally committed to the ideals of His intentions and the goals of His creation. Therefore, only the human is gifted with willful acquiescence, and therefore, the human must also have the ability to be selfish and to refuse. The rest of creation is not given the choice. They are by definition selfless because they are created solely to serve G-d and humanity.
If we analyze the three possibilities for joining G-d in accomplishing His intentions it is clear that the common denominator cannot be genetics. Instead, the common denominator is education. It is our responsibility to teach “the children” Torah. It is our responsibility to inspire “the children” to have a personal relationship with G-d. It is our job to imbue in “the children” a sense of civic and social responsibility.
The mechanism for doing so is Torah and Mitzvos. It is Torah and Mitzvos that connect us to G-d and permits us to join in His partnership. The natural parent who births a child must raise him to a lifetime commitment of Torah and Mitzvos. The adopted parents who raise the orphaned or the abandoned must also raise him to a lifetime of Torah and Mitzvos. Finally, the teacher who teaches his students the skills for learning Torah and doing Mitzvos raises a generation to a lifetime of Torah and Mitzvos.
This week’s Parsha is the first Parsha in the Torah to focus on “the children.” I counted 18 times that the Parsha focuses on children. 10:2, 10:9, 10:10, 10:24, 11:5, 12:12, 12:17, 12:24, 12:26, 12:29, 12:31 (note: reference is to Bnai Yisroel), 12:37, 12:42 (generations), 13:2, 13:8, 13:13, 13:14, 13:15.
The focus of the oppressive persecution was against the male children.
This week’s Parsha includes Makat Bchoros -death of the First-born.
This week’s Parsha includes the Mitzvah of Pidyon Haben – Redeeming the First-born.
It is interesting to note that our most commonly used name is “Bnai Yisroel – the Children of Israel.”
By the plague of Locust Pharaoh refused to let the children go. After the plague of Darkness, Pharaoh agreed to let the children go but refused to let the livestock leave. After the plague of the First Born, Pharaoh agreed to send the Bnai Yisroel and the livestock (12:31). He no longer separated the children from the nation. He accepted that the children were the nation.
This week’s Parsha presents the laws of Pesach and the Seder night. The focus is family and selflessness founded upon the individual. Each person must be counted but they must eat the Korban Pesach – Pascal Lamb as a unit.
The message could not be any clearer. Our nation is founded upon the principal of children.” The children are the ones who guarantee our national continuity. Whether they are biological, adopted, or taught, they are the reason for creation. Every species must be focused on survival. Each individual must attempt to survive, not for selfish reasons but for selfless reasons. It is selfishness in the service of selflessness.
We are told to emulate G-d in all His ways. G-d is singular in the most unique way possible. (See Ani Maamin #2) Yet, He exists to do good and Chesed. G-d exists to benefit humanity. Just as He is One and is selfless so too must we be selfless although we were each created apart and alone. This is the purpose of education. This is the purpose of family. This is the purpose of marriage. This is the purpose of life.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.