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Bereshit

Bereshit

Rashi’s Mussar: Sharing Our Reflections with Others

Published on Wednesday November 11th, 2020

In the Torah Portion of Bereshit, Rashi teaches several fundamental moral principles. Let us delve into the study of verse 26 (Genesis chapter 1), describing the critical moment preceding the creation of man. 

The first attribute that is highlighted in the reading is the attribute of Anava (modesty, humility). Indeed, Rashi emphasizes that on the occasion of the creation of man, God exclaims: "Let us make man in our image" (Naasei Adam ...). And Rashi thus questions the use of the plural, because we know that God, Alone, created man.

Rashi then makes the following comment:

Let us make man. It would be redundant to declare that nobody helped God in the work of creation. Heretics might be incited (by the plural "let us make”) to doubt the existence of a unique God. However, the text does not miss the opportunity to impart a lesson on etiquette and teach us the value of modesty: a superior must request the advice of his subordinate and ask for his permission (Berechit Raba 8,7). If the text read instead: "I, the Lord am going to make man," it would fail to teach us that God consulted his Beth Din. We would have understood that He made this unanimous decision on His own. As for the answer to heretics, it appears in the following verse: "Elo-him created man", in the singular and not in the plural.

This is a warning given by God to humanity prior to the creation of Adam, the first man: cultivate modesty, and beware of pride. Hashem, Himself, who needs neither advice nor help, sought the counsel of his "Beth Din", the angels and His heavenly army as Rashi recalls in his first comment on the verse.

Exercising one's power in an authoritarian and despotic manner is not a distinction of greatness or power in the eyes of Hashem. Only one who can consult his fellow men and lean on his subordinates, who are lower ranking than himself is worthy of exercising true and consistent power and authority. The ability to listen to lesser-ranking and less qualified, simple-minded people displays a capacity to embrace others, and an ability to reconcile different points of view to assess the complexity of any given situation, via differing and multi-faceted approaches.This attribute ensures that power is exercised in peace, fairness and wisdom.

Modern man may doubtlessly benefit from pondering upon this lesson of timeless wisdom, as taught in the first chapter of Genesis. Indeed, man is often intoxicated by power and pride. Modern-day men tend to measure their worth by misusing their power to subdue their fellow men, if not to totally crush them. In an insane unquenchable quest for power, an individual may perceive opposing views as obstacles to be swept away, before taking the time to analyze their two cents of relevance.

These pitfalls lay in wait for those who hold various positions of power and authority. From politicians and corporate managers, to domineering spouses within a couple, to parents, educators and role models for children and pupils. To avoid this trap, man must learn to replace the "I" with a "we”, as the Torah text invites us to do. In other words, vacating vital space for others in our reflections, considering opposing points of view and cultivating scruples, such as admitting we can misjudge situations or make totally wrong assessments.

Thus, we may understand King Solomon’s verse (Proverbs 28:14): "Ashrei Adam Mefached Tamid", happy is the man who always cultivates scruples (happy is the man who is always “afraid” to make a mistake).

Finally, let’s ponder upon a well-known phrase from the Ethics of the Fathers: "Who is wise? He who learns from every man. Who is honorable? He who honors his fellow men.

Jérome TOUBOUL - © Torah-Box

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