Inquire regarding the early days that preceded you, from the day
when G-d created Man on the earth, and from one end of the heaven to the
other end of the heaven.
The Measure of a Man1
Rashi: “Inquire” effectively modifies two different phrases of this pasuk.
Inquire of the earlier days, and inquire from one end of the heaven to the
other. This is the plain meaning of the text. The midrashic approach sees
the last phrase referring not to the inquiry, but to Adam. It describes him
at the time of his creation as extending from the earth to the heaven,
which is the same distance as from one end of the heaven to the other.
Gur Aryeh: Rashi’s comment is taken from the gemara.2 One way to
look at this passage is to note Man’s special role in the physical world.
While all other components of this world are entirely physical, Man’s
creation injects a spiritual element into Creation. That elevates and
offers a form of completion and fulfillment to the world. Because the world
would be so terribly deficient without Man’s contribution, Man - at least
before he himself became deficient – can be seen as the necessary
complementary element – indeed the defining element - to all of Creation.
It is in that sense that he reached from one end of it to another, and to
the very border of Heaven.
In the process of sinning, however, Man gave up his spiritual position, and
began attaching himself to the physical. Having done so, he could no longer
be regarded as the defining element, giving shape, form and purpose to the
physical. Having become somewhat of a physical being, he could no longer
function as a molder of that world, standing outside and over it. He had
become too much part of it himself.
There is a second way to understand the passage, and it is preferable to
the first. Man is created in the Divine image. Through this tzelem Elokim,
Man was given dominion over everything in the physical world that does not
possess this image. Before Adam sinned, this dominion was clear. It
manifested itself in the entirety of Creation, from one end of the world to
the other, and up to the very boundary of the Heavens. Man not only
completed Creation (as explained in the first approach above), his
influence could be felt and detected wherever one looked. Hashem exercises
absolute control over all phenomena in the universe – the metaphysical
universe, as well as the physical one. Man’s dominion over the physical
world derives from, is a refraction of, Hashem’s dominion. Man’s Divine
image makes him the ruler over all things in this world, as surely as
Hashem stands over all worlds.
According to Chazal,3 HKBH called Yaakov “El.” As the model
human being, Yaakov captured the majesty of Man that had once been the
possession of Adam HaRishon. This made him an el, a ruler over the world
below the Heavens.
We could object that if Man’s role derives from his sharing a Divine image,
then why stop at the material world? Let his Divine image give him dominion
over the entirety of the universe, just like that of G-d! This, of course,
is an error. Possessing a Divine image is not the same as being Divine. A
tzelem Elokim is not Elokus. Man shares a capacity with Hashem, but only
insofar as it can apply to Man’s bailiwick – the limited, bound-in-time-and-
space, physical world. Only there does this image show itself as
establishing human hegemony over all parts of the physical world.
This glorious role of Man came to an end, we would think, with Adam’s sin
in Gan Eden. Man distanced himself from His Creator; from here on in, Man
would no longer function completerly in synch with the Will of his Master.
The image of G-d within Man would be diminished, to the point of leaving
him without essential worth, and without any advantage over the rest of
This is not so. Man’s special place was diminished, but not eliminated.
Although Rashi doesn’t quote it, the maamar Chazal continues with
describing the aftermath of Man’s sin. As a consequence of Man’s rebellion,
Hashem scaled him down, reducing him to a mere 100 amos by 100 amos. This
is a crucial statement. We might have easily come to the mistaken
conclusion that once Man distanced himself from Hashem, he lost all
pretense to natural greatness. Worse yet, we could have imagined him in a
new state of abject distance from G-d, of become worthless and cursed.
Chazal tell us otherwise. Man’s Divine image was maintained, albeit in
lesser form, even after this sin. Where he previously made his presence
known throughout the physical world, it would now be felt in a much smaller
area, localized to his presence. No human being is 100 amos square. The
description of a post-chet Adam of 100 amos on a side can only mean that
Man continues to influence the world though his tzelem Elokim beyond the
reaches of his physical self. Man’s spiritual reach exceeds his physical
Our pasuk’s description of Adam as filling the physical world through the
spiritual potential of his Divine image both saddens us and gladdens us. We
are saddened by contemplating a majesty that exists no more, lost to the
consequences of sin. Man’s dominion over everything else is no more. At the
same time, we can be gladdened in that we did not lose all of it, but
retained a dominion that spills out beyond our physical reach.
1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Devarim 4:32; Bereishis 33:20
2. Chagigah 12A
3. Megillah 18A
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