Please include Israel's captive soldiers in your tefillot: Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel, Tzvi ben Penina Feldman, Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah Katz, Ron ben Batya Arad, Guy ben Rina Chever.
Isru Chag Sukkot Friday, 23 Tishrei 5775 – October 17, 2014
Yesterday, we noted the Mishna’s famous comment in Masekhet Avot (5:1):
The world was created in ten pronouncements. What does this come to teach? After all, it could have been created in a single pronouncement. Rather, [this was done] so the wicked will be punished for ruining the world that was created in ten pronouncements, and the righteous will be rewarded for sustaining the world which was created in ten pronouncements.
Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, in his Peirushei Ibra (2), elaborates on the significance of the ten pronouncements with which the world was created and the message conveyed by the Mishna. The first of these ten pronouncements, Rav Henkin explains, was the creation ex nihilo of the raw matter from which all of existence was then formed, as indicated by the verse in Tehillim (33:6), “bi-dvar Hashem shamayim na’asu” (“The heavens were made by the word of God”). The next eight pronouncements are the first eight instances in Parashat Bereishit where we read, “va-yomer Elokim” – “God said” – as he brought the world’s specific creations into existence during the six days. The tenth of final pronouncement is God’s command to Adam and Chava (1:28), “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and conquer it.”
Rav Henkin insightfully notes that these different pronouncements combine to express the fundamental Jewish belief in bechira – the free will given to human beings to choose right and wrong. In the final pronouncement, God does not actually create anything, but rather transfers the responsibility of creation, so-to-speak, to mankind. After the process of creation, God entrusted the world to humanity, and commanded mankind to sustain the world and work toward its advancement. Implicit in this command is the assumption that we are given the power to build or destroy; to move the world forward and continue the process of creation, but also to ruin it.
In the middle eight pronouncements, God invested each different part of creation with its unique properties. By making a separate pronouncement for each aspect of creation, God made everything in creation unique and different from everything else. This is certainly true of human beings, and the result is that each and every one of us has his or her unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and, consequently, a unique set of challenges and responsibilities. In fulfilling the command of “kivshuha,” to continue the process of creation by sustaining and developing the world, we are each to utilize our special skill sets while struggling to overcome our special hardships and challenges. However, while we are all different from one another, the first pronouncement shows that we all stem from the same basic substance with which creation came into being, and thus all of creation shares the same common source. This commonality, Rav Henkin observes, is what allows us to influence one another, to model behavior for one another, and to impact upon the way other people act. Although we are all distinct from one another, we also share a lot in common, and this is what makes it possible for one person’s speech and conduct to influence the way other people speak and act.
Taken altogether, then, the ten pronouncements reflect our ability to contribute toward the advancement of the world and mankind by overcoming our innate weaknesses and by exerting a positive influence upon the people around us. Hence, “The wicked will be punished for ruining the world that was created in ten pronouncements, and the righteous will be rewarded for sustaining the world which was created in ten pronouncements.” As we are all given the power and ability to achieve and have an impact, we are obligated and challenged to use our God-given talents and overcome our innate negative tendencies, and will be rewarded and held accountable to the extent to which we succeed or fail in this lifelong endeavor.
Rav David Silverberg
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