There is a strange recurring phenomenon throughout Parshas Beireshit: The Torah first describes one model of creation and then proceeds to depict a completely different, even contradictory picture of the same creation. For example:
- The first perek of Beireshit describes Adam as a being that was created b’tzelem Elokim, an inspiring and Divine portrayal of man and his role in the world.
- However, the very next chapter describes man as a physical being, formed from nothing more than the dirt of the earth, a description almost identical to the creation of animals.
What happened to the Godly, inspiring image of man?
Luminaries and Trees
This same pattern extends to the creation of the luminaries:
- When describing the creation of the sun and the moon, the pasuk initially says that Hashem created two great lights.
- However, the pasuk continues by stating that the large luminary would illuminate the day, while the small luminary would be dedicated to the night.
The Midrash asks the obvious question: What happened to the two big lights? Why does the pasuk begin by stating that there were two great lights, but end by calling only the sun a great light? The Midrash famously explains that the moon was originally created with equal stature to the sun; however, in an act of arrogance and ego, the moon asked Hashem how there can possibly be two dominant lights. As a result, Hashem shrank the moon, and it became subservient to the sun (see Rashi ad loc.).
A similar pattern occurs by the creation of trees. Hashem states that there shall be “fruit trees – “eitz pri '' – that bear fruits. The next pasuk then describes the creation of trees that bear fruit.
The Midrash explains that, originally, trees themselves, including their bark and branches, were supposed to taste like their fruits.
However, when they were actually created, this did not manifest. The bark of a tree tastes nothing like its sweet fruit (see Rashi ad loc.).
What is the meaning of this recurring pattern? Why are so many elements of creation depicted in one way before being described in a contradictory fashion?
The Answer: An Ideal, Followed by the Starting Point
The key to answering these questions lies in one of the most fundamental concepts in Judaism. The Arizal, Ramchal, Vilna Gaon, and many other Jewish thinkers explain that every process contains three stages:
- The first stage is the high, the inspiration, an experience of perfection and clarity.
- Next comes the second stage: a complete fall, a loss of everything that was experienced during the first stage.
- Then there is the third stage, a return to the perfection of the first stage. However, this third stage is fundamentally different from the first. It is the same perfection, the same clarity, but this time it’s a perfection and clarity that you have earned. The first time it was given to you; now you have worked to build it for yourself.
The first stage is a gift, a spiritual high. It’s there to help you experience the goal, the destination. It’s a taste of what you can and hopefully will ultimately accomplish, but it’s not real. It’s given as a gift and is therefore an illusion. It serves only as a guiding force but cannot compare to the genuine accomplishment of building something yourself. It is therefore taken away to allow for the second and most important stage: building it yourself, undergoing the work required to attain this growth in actuality, to work for the perfection that you were shown. A gift isn’t real; something chosen and earned is. We’re in this world to choose, to assert our free will, and to create ourselves. Now that we have tasted the first stage, we know what we’re meant to choose, what we’re meant to build. The third stage is the recreation of the first stage. While it appears the same, it’s fundamentally different. It’s real, it’s earned, and it’s yours. The first stage was a gift, an illusion; the third is the product born of the effort and time you invested. In our next article, we will answer our original questions and continue deepening this powerful principle.
The Ideal Adam
There are many explanations for the contradictory descriptions of Adam in the first and second chapters of Beireshit, but it can be explained clearly and beautifully according to the principle we just established. The ideal and goal of man is to become G-dly, to become perfect, all-knowing, all-good, all-kind, and to have complete self-control. However, this is the goal, not the starting point. We begin as animalistic beings, with limited intellectual abilities and undeveloped character traits. A baby is selfish, the center of its own world, the only person who exists. This is the exact opposite of G-dliness. The goal of life is to become G-dly, to go through the process of actualizing our potential, and in doing so, we become a true tzelem Elokim. As we have previously explained, the fetus learns kol haTorah kulah in the womb, and then loses it upon being born into this world. We are born imperfect, so that we can journey through this world with the mission of becoming perfect, recreating and earning what we once received as a gift. Adam was created first as a perfect being, the model of who we each strive to become before being reduced to the lowly and animalistic being that we begin our lives as.
The Sun and the Moon
The sun and moon are representative of an entity and its vessel. The goal of a vessel is to fully and loyally contain and project the essence within it – to serve as the medium of revelation for its inner content. A light bulb does not block the light within but loyally projects it out into the world. This is the ideal, as well, for the body in its relationship to the soul; the body must carry the soul and serve as its enabler, allowing the spiritual self to manifest correctly into the world. The entire physical world, as well, should ideally serve as the perfect projection of its spiritual source.
This ideal is modeled in the creation of the sun and moon. While the moon was never equal to the sun in size, it was originally able to fully reflect the light of the sun. The moon destroyed this through the sin of ego, a projection of self that prevented it from fully and properly reflecting the light of the sun. When you assert yourself and your ego, you are unable to reflect anything higher than yourself. As a result, the moon “shrank” and was no longer able to fully reflect the light of the sun.
This same theme applies to the human body, as well. Originally, the body was a clear reflection of the soul. The Midrash explains that when you looked at Adam, you did not see his body, you saw his essence, his soul. When you look at a light bulb, all you see is radiant luminescence; only if you look really closely can you make out the vessel that contains the light. This is what Adam’s body was originally like. Once Adam sinned, however, the body fell to its present form: a vessel that hides the soul, not one that loyally projects it.
Every time we say Birkas HaChodesh, we daven for Mashiach, where the moon will once again fully reflect the sun, where the physical world will fully reflect the spiritual, where the body will fully reflect the soul. As the Ramchal explains, in the times of Techiyas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), the body will return to its perfect state, where it can fully reflect all the light and spiritual greatness of the neshamah (Derech Hashem 1:3:13).
Trees Tasting Like the Fruits
A fruit represents the end goal, the destination, the result of a process. A tree represents the process, the stage of growth and becoming. The ideal is for the process, the tree, to be as enjoyable and euphoric as the destination itself, the fruit. However, the world was created in such a way that we do not naturally enjoy the process. Most people do not want to undergo the process of becoming great; they simply want to be great. This impatience causes many to give up on their journey toward greatness.
This theme touches upon something very deep. Olam HaBa is a place of being, a place of endpoint, where you enjoy everything you’ve built and become in this world. The consciousness and person you create in this world is what you will enjoy in the World to Come. This world (Olam HaZeh), however, is the place of becoming, the place of process, where you create yourself. The goal is to learn how to enjoy the process itself. When you realize that you are creating your eternity, you are able to enjoy the building process, as well. This is what it means for the tree to taste like the fruits. The process is just as important as the destination, because you only get to the destination by building your way there. [From this perspective, one can actually enjoy the process just as much as (if not more than) arriving at the goal itself.] Every part of the process is fundamental; every moment spent correctly becomes eternal. When you know this, you get to live in Olam HaBa while still in this world!
Genuine happiness comes from enjoying the process of becoming. You’ll never be perfect, but you can always become more perfect. Happiness comes from enjoying the process of becoming your best self, fulfilling your unique purpose in life. The ideal is for the process (tree) to be every bit as sweet as the end result (fruits), but in this world, we must work toward that ideal; it is not a given. It takes choice and willpower to enjoy the journey toward greatness.
The Process of Life
This is the process of life. The ideal is revealed, taken away, and then remains as our goal as we journey through life, trying to recreate that ideal. The key is to be inspired by the goal, not discouraged by the struggle. We must understand that our goal is to become G-dly, fully reflect our higher selves, create oneness, and enjoy every single step of the process!
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the bestselling author of “The Journey to Your Ultimate Self,” which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. As an educator and keynote speaker, he has lectured internationally on topics of Torah thought, psychology, and leadership. He is also the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received Semicha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education from Azrieli, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Bernard Revel. He then spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Scholar. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife and son where he is pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com
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