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The Systems of the Jewish Year

How Much Are You Worth?

By TorahLab

In the story of the Creation of the world, it is recorded that “G-d blessed the seventh day” (Gen. 2:3). How did He bless the Sabbath? According to Rashi, He blessed it with manna, by providing a double portion on Fridays, while the Israelites were in the desert.

This may seem strange—here we have a chronicle of events (the Creation) of enduring importance, and yet this blessing is to apply for a mere forty years some time in the future, when the Jews will be in the desert!

Another such incongruity occurs on the fifth day, with the creation of the “taninim” (sea monsters), which is the only occasion where it does not say: “Vayehi chen” ("And it was so"). Why is that? If G-d created something, then, presumably, it WAS so. (Or we should perhaps rather ask why why it does say “Vayehi chen” on other occasions.)

The Ramban explains this by quoting Rashi, who quotes an Aggada (Bava Basra 74b) to the effect that these “taninim” are the Leviathan and its mate, who (the female) was then slain and salted for a future banquet, with the Messiah. So here we have something created and immediately killed and preserved, all for the sake of a single meal, some time in the future!

There seems to be a mismatch between the presentation of these things here (the blessing of the Sabbath, the creation of the taninim) and their (apparently) rather restricted purpose.

The problem, I think, lies in our attitude of assuming that something which is important must occupy a lot of time and space. But this need not be so! We cannot judge the importance of something based on its immediate obvious value.

An example of this occurs in the story of Noah, who sent a raven out of his ark to search for dry land (8:7). According to the Midrash, the raven asked Noah: “Why me? Why not send one of the many other creatures here?” “Well,” answered Noah (with more frankness than tact, we might think) “you do not have much purpose in the world—you are not kosher, you cannot be brought as a sacrifice, you do not sing sweetly—so it will not be a big loss to the world if you don’t survive.” Be that as it may, the raven did survive, and his descendants later had an important function in helping Elijah survive in the desert by bringing him food (I Kings 17:6).

So Noah was wrong about the apparent uselessness of ravens in the scheme of things; and that is the point—we can all be wrong when we try to judge the importance of something or someone in G-d’s plan.

Another example is given when Moses, commanded by G-d to wage war against the Midianites, decided that he should also wage war against the Moabites, since (he felt) they were worse—the Midianites had only aided them in their attacks on the Jews. But he was wrong here, and G-d commanded him not to attack the Moabites. With hindsight, we can see why: from the Moabites came Ruth, from whom came the house of David. Hence it was important in the scheme of things that the Moabites be permitted to survive—many generations of a whole nation, who were unfriendly to the Jews, so that ultimately Ruth might emerge.

Thus even Moses could misjudge the importance of a nation, and certainly any of us is incapable of judging the value of any nation, or group, or individual. We are incapable of making such a judgment, without having G-d’s vision of the world as a whole, which means that we are simply incapable of making such a judgment.

Occasionally, we may wonder of someone, what value he could possibly have to anyone else. This is a mistake! We cannot know anyone’s purpose in life—even our own! It could be that such a person’s life could be justified by a single action of his, or of one of his descendants, many generations down the line! We can never know such things, and should never attempt such judgments.

This drasha was given at the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo on Shabbat Bereishit, and transcribed from memory by Jeffery Zucker.

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