This morning we read from the double Sedra of Tazria/Metzorah. This Sedra begins with birth and informs us of the mitzvah of brit Milah:
“On the eighth day you shall circumcise the foreskin of his flesh”.
I want to analyse a famous Medrash which is found in the Tanchuma and also in a collection of Medrashim from the Yalkut Shimoni on our Sedra:
It’s a discussion between Rabbi Akiva and the Roman Governor Turnus Rufus- not a friend of the Jews; he was the one who ended up ploughing up the land upon which the Temple was built.
Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva, "Whose deeds are better? Those of G-d or those of man?"
Rabbi Akiva answered, "Those of humans are better." Turnus Rufus asked, "Behold the heaven and the earth. Can you make anything more beautiful than them?"
He answered, "Do not tell me about something that is higher than human capabilities, since humans are unable to do these things, but let us compare things which humans are capable of."
Turnus Rufus asked, "Why do you circumcise yourselves?" Rabbi Akiva answered, "I knew that you were asking about something like that, and for that reason I told you at the start that men's deeds are greater than those of G-d."
Rabbi Akiva then brought to Turnus Rufus two items: stalks of wheat and baked rolls. Rabbi Akiva said, "These the stalks of wheat are the deeds of G-d, and these the baked rolls are the deeds of humans. Are these baked rolls not more beautiful?"
"If so," answered Turnus Rufus, "since G-d is interested in circumcision, why did he not create human beings already circumcised?"
Rabbi Akiva answered, "Because G-d gave the mitzvot to the Jewish people only to purify them. And this is what David Hamelech said, "The word of G-d is pure, it is a shield for all those who take shelter in Him."
Let me just delve into this Medrash a second. Turnus Rufus is trying to understand the need for a Jew to do a Mitzvah. If G-d created this world perfect; then why does man need to do anything with it?
Indeed as a Jew I declare from His holy Torah that - The Rock (G-d) His work is perfect. (Haazinu) If I believe that G-d’s work is perfect how can the puny insignificant little me come along and say that I need to do anything to change his world to make it better?
So Rabbi Akiva begins with the statement that this world created by G-d is not better than the deeds of man. Indeed he brings a proof by showing the wheat stalks- G-d’s natural creation and the bread rolls- mans intervention
Of course Rabbi Akiva doesn’t believe that this world- the works of Hashem are anything less than perfect- but what Rabbi Akiva is saying is; that G-d wrote into the DNA of creation the need for man to take His creation and develop it; to become a partner, so to speak in creation itself.
Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch says something very similar in relation to the words we recite from Vayechulu-
“And G-d blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it; because on it He rested from all His work which G-d had created Laasot; to make – to do.
Rav Shimshon says that the la-asot is a command to man. G-d gives us the raw materials. We have the responsibility to take His creation and develop and improve it, and by so doing we become partners in creation itself.
“G-d created man in His likeness- in the image of G-d He created him” One explanation of being made in the image of G-d is that man, like G-d, has the capability of being a creative being. Man can take G-d’s beautiful world and preserve and elevate it and make it a dwelling place for His Divine Presence. Man has the capability of reaching up to the height of the angels. Conversely- he also has the capability of dragging himself lower than the animal kingdom.
The Talmud says: there are three partners in the creation of a human being ; father, mother and the Holy one blessed Be He.
Hashem wants us to take His world and become partners with Him in creation. Our mission is therefore not to divorce ourselves from this world but to be actively involved in this world and elevating the world around us.
This past Thursday we celebrated the 64th anniversary of the creation of Israel. Think back to the birth of our wonderful homeland- the pioneers who built up the land. The many- I believe twenty two thousand who gave their lives fighting for the land since its inception. May their memory be for a blessing.
I think of how at the very outset, there were Arab nations surrounding Israel that wanted to destroy us and how some still do. Yet-despite all this- we were able to develop that land with only the 600000 people who were there at that time. Israel today has become the wonderful successful place it is. It is the only place for over two thousand years that the Jews have felt comfortable enough to call our home. And yet we have travelled so far.
It is because there are people who know that we as Jews, as humans have a calling, a mission a charge to develop, to create, to build. And at the same time we acknowledge that ultimately it is Hashem who sustains and gives us the potential to create and grow. Ki hu noten lecha koach laasot Chayil
Hodu Lashem Ki Tov- ki leolam chasdo we give thanks to Him for He is good- His kindness is forever.