Saturday, September 08, 2007

You Are Called Man

Discussion rages on Gil's blogs about R' Aharon Feldman's shiur where he rationalizes the Torah's statement that "You [Israel, to the exclusion of non-Jews] are called Man [Adam]":

The message of the Gemara is not that Jews are inherently different from Gentiles. Rather, it is that Jews have the Torah which enables them to more easily fulfill their purpose. Jews, who have received the Torah, have the keys to fulfilling their purpose in life. Therefore they are called "Man". Gentiles, who do not have this tool, have greater difficulty in accepting God's yoke and therefore are not necessarily called "Man".

which commenters on the Reshimu site dismiss as "tired apologetics". I find it lacking in that Gentiles, who may not have the Torah, also do not have as many mitzvot. Is the Torah a universal code, that all Homo sapiens are called upon to fulfill? And non-Jews, not observing Torah, are not thereby living up to their potential?

I thought non-Jews are only obligated in Seven (or 66, according to R' Aharon Lichtenstein, cousin to the one in Israel) Mitzvot. So it's easier, if anything, for them to live up to their potential. Which means R' Feldman's rationale doesn't work, and we're thrust back on this peculiar statement in the Torah.

There are various ways to perceive non-Jews, I think. One is to embrace the racism, as does the first chapter of Tanya, based on the Eitz Chaim of the Arizal (16th century):

מה שאין כן נפשות אומות העולם הן משאר קליפות טמאות שאין בהן טוב כלל

The souls of the nations of the world, however, emanate from the other, unclean kelipot which contain no good whatever,

כמו שכתוב בע׳ חיים שער מ״ט פרק ג׳: וכל טיבו דעבדין האומות לגרמייהו עבדין

as is written in Etz Chayim, Portal 40, ch. 3, that all the good that the nations do, is done out of selfish motives.

[Since their nefesh emanates from kelipot which contain no good, it follows that any good done by them is for selfish motives.]

Which I'm sure made the Alter Rebbe's audience in 18th-century Belarus feel better about being downtrodden by animalistic non-Jews. But why make socioeconomic circumstance into existential claim?

Or, we can take Chazal in the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot:

3:18. Rabbi Akiva used to say: Beloved is the man that he was created in the image of G-d; an extra love is made known to him that he was created in G-d's image, as it says (Genesis 9:6) "for in His own image G-d made humankind". Beloved are the Jews that they are called sons to G-d; an extra love is made known to them that they are called sons to G-d, as it says (Deuteronomy 14:1) "You are children of the Lord your G-d." Beloved are the Jews that there has been given to them the precious instrument; an extra love is made known to them that they were given the precious instrument of the world's creation, as it says (Proverbs 4:2) "For I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching."

  • So Man is created in God's image. Man is himself beloved because God let him know this.
  • Israel is called sons of God; they are beloved because God let them know this.
  • Jews were given the Torah; they are beloved because God let them know that this was the instrument of the world's creation.

Somehow this manages to portray all mankind as human, and Jews as extra beloved because of God's relationship with them. The non-Jews are not portrayed as sub-human, but the Jews are portrayed as receivers of extra love, because they are given extra work to do.

Still, that leaves us with the problematic statement in the Gemara in Yevamos 114b, "You are called Man [Adam], and the non-Jews are not called Man." This seems patently untrue, since the Torah often uses Adam for all of humankind, and the Mishnah in Avos above clearly uses it to refer to all humanity, not just Jews.

However, that mishnah gives us a somewhat gentler understanding of the statement than R' Feldman's, which doesn't fall afoul of the 7 Laws of the Sons of Noah. The key can be found in the following Zohar (II, 86a), tr. R' Moshe Miller:

Rabbi Shimon taught: How privileged Israel is that the Holy One calls them "adam" ["man"], as is written, "You are my flock, the flock that I pasture; you are man (in Hebrew, "adam")" (Ez. 34:31); "When a man ("adam") will sacrifice..." (Lev. 1:2). Why does the verse refer to them as "adam"? Since it is written, "And you who cleave to the Lord your G-d..." (Deut. 4:4).

R' Miller comments: The word "adam" is a derivative of the word "domeh", meaning "like" or "similar to." (See Radak, Shorashim s.v. Adam.) Because the Jewish People cleave to G-d they are in His likeness, as in the verse, "We shall make man in Our image in Our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Note that the word for likeness is "kidmuteinu" - also a derivative of "domeh".

Israel is extra beloved because it has the Torah and knows it, and knows the Torah's place as the blueprint of Creation. Since the Torah is the expression of God's will in and for the world, we who follow the Torah are those who make ourselves most like God. Since Adam was created in the image of God (kidmuteinu), in following the Torah, Jews make themselves most like Adam.

So it's not an inherent higher status (per the Tanya) which makes the others lesser, but an act of will and love. Avraham so loved the Lord that the Lord chose him and obligated his descendents to keep the Torah. We collectively accepted the mission at Sinai and again in the time of Esther and Achashverosh. Non-Jews are addressed as Adam, because they, like us, are descendants of Adam, created in God's Image. But only Jews strive to return to that primordial state, the state most like God, the state of pre-sin Adam. Thus, only the Jews are called Adam in that only they strive to be Adam.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

great post... i'm completely shocked by a certain reshimu commenter's blindness to any sense of Jewish worth not built on putting down others.

my brother has been known to say that Ahavat Yisra’eil is not actually Ahavat Yisra’eil if it's based on Sin’at Haberiyot. you can't call it love of someone if it's because you hate/disrespect/devalue everyone else.

thanbo said...

useful definition, that. i'll have to mention it to my mother, whose charitable works through her shul mostly benefit non-Jews, for which some other congregants give her grief.

Anonymous said...

What is interesting is that whilst you rejected Tanya's interpretation at the begining of your post you then, through your own investigation, came to the exact same conclusion as Tanya.

Which, by the way, in its following chapters (after Chapter 1) progresses into the discussion of how Mentchkins need to live up to this status of "Thus, only the Jews are called Adam in that only they strive to be Adam."

thanbo said...

Sorry, I don't see that at all. The Tanya speaks of inherent differences, while the Zohar speaks of acquired differences - the Jew's goal, accepted at Sinai and Shushan, is Torah & mitzvos. That's an obligation, not an inherent difference.

My grandparents became citizens of the US. Therefore their children were born as US citizens. There's no metaphysical difference, only a legal difference, one which can be passed on by birth.