The Uniqueness of Man
Volume 20, No. 1
26 Tishrei 5766
October 29, 2005
the Parness family
in memory of Anna Parness a"h
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Eruvin 24
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Berachot 26
Parashat Bereishit relates the story of man's creation, his
placement in Gan Eden, his sin, and his expulsion from the Garden. R'
Yehuda ben Yakar z"l (Spain; 12th-13th centuries) observes that Adam's
story and Hashem's attitude toward him is alluded to in the verse in
the Ne'ilah prayer: "You set man apart from the beginning and You
recognized him as being worthy of standing before You . . ." He
You set man apart because he sinned, as it is written (Bereishit
3:23), "So Hashem Elokim banished him from the Garden of Eden." This
separation was to man's detriment. However, because man repented, his
expulsion was not total and he was allowed to settle just east of Gan
Eden. [R' Yehuda ben Yakar apparently infers this from the fact that
Hashem placed guards at the east side of the Garden. If there was a
need for guards there to keep Adam out, that must have been where he
Furthermore, because Adam repented, "You recognized him as being
worthy of standing before You." You recognized him and did not become
a stranger to him [a play on the similarity of the Hebrew words
"le'hakir" / "to recognize" and "le'hitnaker" / "to act as a
He continues: Some say that the separation referred to in the
prayer is man's being separated from other creatures by being given
intelligence, as it is written (Tehilim 8:6), "You made him slightly
less than the angels." (Quoted in Machzor Mikraei Kodesh p.504)
"Hashem Elokim planted a garden in Eden, to the east, and
placed there the man whom He had formed." (2:8)
Our parashah describes Gan Eden as the original home of Adam.
Gan Eden also is mentioned by our Sages as the place where the souls
of the deceased go to receive their ultimate rewards. How, if at all,
do these two concepts of Gan Eden relate to each other?
R' Moshe ben Nachman z"l (Ramban; 1194-1270) explains: There are
two "places" called Gan Eden. First, everything mentioned in our
parashah in connection with Adam's stay in, and expulsion from Gan
Eden is true in its most literal sense. This includes the existence
of the Garden itself, the Four Rivers, the Tree of Life, the Tree of
Knowledge, the spinning sword, the Keruvim, the fig leaves, the belts,
and the leather garments that Hashem made. But besides being
literally true, the places and items just mentioned are hints to the
nature of the second Gan Eden, a spiritual realm that we cannot
comprehend unless we understand the allusions contained in our
Ramban continues: In the same way, we speak of a lower Bet
Hamikdash, i.e., the one that stood in Yerushalayim, and an upper Bet
Hamikdash, i.e., in the spiritual realms. The purpose of the design
and layout of the lower Bet Hamikdash and its implements is to inform
us about the upper realms. Likewise, all creations were designed to
teach us about parallel beings in the spiritual realms.
Adam, the first man, the handiwork of G-d's Hand, possessed great
understanding and wisdom. Hashem placed him in the finest of all
locations -- Gan Eden -- where he would benefit physically and where
he also could learn the design of the upper world from studying his
"But of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad -- you must not
eat of it; for on the day you eat of it, you shall surely
"The man said, `The woman whom You gave to be with me -- she
gave me of the tree, and I ate'." (3:12)
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 5b) says that Adam was ungrateful.
Instead of thanking Hashem for giving him a companion, he blamed
Hashem: "It's Your fault I ate from the tree, because you gave me
Chava to entice me."
R' Moshe Zuriel shlita (former mashgiach ruchani of Yeshivat
Sha'alvim) points out, as do other Ba'alei Mussar, that Adam was never
punished for eating from the Tree per se. He did not die immediately
as G-d had warned. But he was punished for denying his sin. That is
G-d's way -- He waits before he punishes the sinner to see if the
sinner will regret his actions and repent. And, if the sinner does
not repent, he will be punished more for that failure then for the
original sinful act.
Why? Maharal of Prague z"l explains that man's physical nature
makes him predisposed to sin. Thus, he is not completely accountable.
However, man is in control of whether he regrets his sins and repents.
The Gemara teaches that King Shaul sinned only once, but he
forfeited his kingdom as a result. In contrast, King David sinned
twice but did not lose his kingdom. Midrash Tehilim explains
(interpreting Mishlei 28:13), "`One who conceals his sins will not
succeed' -- this refers to Shaul. `But he who confesses and forsakes
them will be granted mercy' -- this is David." When King Shaul failed
to eradicate Amalek, he initially denied that he had disobeyed G-d's
command. When the prophet confronted King David with his wrongdoing,
David immediately confessed.
R' Zuriel adds: We find this same lesson taught in other places
in Tanach. In particular, the prophet Yirmiyah tells us (Yirmiyah
2:35), "Behold I am entering into judgment with you because of your
saying, `I have not sinned'." When a person sins, it may be
inadvertent or even unavoidable. However, one who fails to repent is
an intentional sinner, and for that Hashem punishes.
(Otzrot Ha'Torah: Ma'amar Modeh V'ozev Yerucham)
"And he called his name Noach saying, `This one will bring us
rest from our work . . .'" (5:29)
"But Noach found grace in the eyes of Hashem." (6:8)
R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l (1903-1993) is quoted as observing:
Only a person who finds favor in his own eyes, who feels he has worth,
can eventually earn G-d's favor. Even Noach did not find grace in the
eyes of Hashem until he first earned the approbation of his fellow
This is why Yom Kippur is considered by our Sages to be such a
joyous day. Repeatedly in the Yom Kippur prayers, we refer to
ourselves as being "Lifnei Hashem" / "standing in the presence of G-
d." It is this sense that we are close to Hashem, this self-
confidence that we can stand before Him, that allows us to achieve
what we are meant to achieve on that Holy Day.
(Noraot Ha'Rav Vol. XV, p.72)
R' Alexander Ziskind z"l
("Yesod Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah")
R' Alexander Ziskind of Horodna (Grodno, Belarus), was the author
of the unique and influential work, Yesod Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah / "The
Foundation and Root of [Divine] Service." He was a student of R'
Aryeh Leib Epstein of Konigsberg, reportedly one of only two
individuals whose written works were graced by a haskamah / letter of
recommendation from R' Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon. R' Alexander Ziskind
never held a rabbinic post, and he encouraged his children as well not
to enter the rabbinate. However, he was known for his tremendous
piety, which is reflected in his two published works. He died on 18
Adar 5554 / 1794.
The book Yesod Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah is a manual for increasing
one's kavanah / concentration and devotion when serving Hashem, with
chapters covering the daily prayers and other daily activities,
Shabbat, the holidays and other major life events. Many great sages,
for example, the Chafetz Chaim, reportedly scheduled regular times to
study this work. In the introduction, the author writes:
In this work, it will be explained how a person should
concentrate his thoughts in all the prayers and blessings and
in all the avodot / services of our Maker and Creator, may
His name be blessed and elevated, which we perform as we were
commanded throughout the year from beginning to end, and how
to act with awe and love to our Creator, may His name be
blessed and elevated, so as to bring pleasure to the One
Whose Name is Blessed, for this is the reason for man's
Elsewhere in the introduction he writes:
Certainly, anyone who has a brain in his head will admit to
the truth, i.e., that one who does not have in mind the
meaning of the words of all the prayers, blessings, praises
and intentions which will be quoted in this work can have
applied to him the verse (Tehilim 101:7), "One who tells lies
shall not be established before My eyes."
Take for example the verse [in the morning prayers], "I will
praise Hashem while I live . . ." If a person says these
words and does not have in mind that he accepts upon himself
in his heart and his thoughts to praise and sing to his G-d
all the days of his life, then he is telling a lie, for he is
saying that he accepts to do this [i.e., praise Hashem] and
his heart is in fact distant from such an intention.
Similarly, if one says the verse [also in the morning
prayers], "Let Israel exult in its Maker, let Bnei Yisrael
rejoice in their King" and he does not feel a great powerful
joy that his Maker and Creator, may His name be blessed and
elevated, has given him the opportunity to be associated with
Him, then he is telling a lie.
Throughout the remainder of the work, the author gives practical
advice drawn from the Gemara, Midrashim and Zohar to enhance the
concentration and attention of one who is praying or performing other
acts of Divine service. [G-d willing, we will publish excerpts from
this work during the coming year for the benefit of all.]
R' Alexander Ziskind's ethical will to his children is been
printed in many editions of Yesod Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah and also
contains important guidance.
Copyright © 2005 by Shlomo Katz
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Text archives from 1990 through the present may be retrieved from http://www.acoast.com/~sehc/hamaayan/.
Hamaayan needs your support! Please consider sponsoring Hamaayan in honor of a happy occasion or in memory of a loved one. Did you know that the low cost of sponsorship - only $18 - has not changed in seventeen years? Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.