In the Torah’s account of the creation of the universe, human beings only appear on the scene late on the Friday of creation. The Talmud presents four reasons: to establish G-d as the sole author of creation; to instil in us a sense of humility; to ensure humankind had a fully formed world to step into; and to ensure that one of our first experiences was the mitzvah of Shabbat. We see that the purpose of creating human beings was for us to serve G-d – to fulfil His will through the mitzvot. And that is the ultimate purpose of the world.
This week’s parsha, Tazria-Metzora, begins with a discussion on the laws of childbirth and brit milah, and also the laws regarding ritual purity and impurity, what we call tum’ah and taharah.
Rashi raises a question: in last week’s portion, Shemini, the Torah details the laws of purity and impurity with regard to animals. This week’s portion, continuing into next week’s, deals with these laws with regard to people. It would seem more appropriate to have begun with human beings before animals, as befitting our more exalted status in the world.
To answer the question, Rashi quotes from the Midrash, which says that G-d modelled this structure on the order in which He created the world. Animals precede humans in the order of creation, therefore, here too, they precede humans when it comes to the laws of tum’ah and taharah.
The question, then, is compounded: why did G-d create animals before human beings in the first place? It’s a question that puzzled the sages of the Talmud. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 38a) presents four different answers.
The first is that human beings were created last in order to establish G-d as the sole author of creation. If people were around from the beginning, says the Talmud, later generations might be swayed to regard creation as a human rather than a wholly Divine endeavour; that we were G-d’s co-creators, so to speak, in the work of creating the world.
It is also true that, as our sages state, human beings are called on to be G-d’s “partners in creation” – partners in creating a better world, and in bringing the world to its perfected state. Ultimately, though, it’s important to acknowledge G-d as the One who put the initial building blocks in place, who set everything in motion, who created the framework within which human creativity can be unleashed. It’s important to acknowledge that we live in a world created, ex nihilo, yaish m’ayin, by G-d – that we ourselves are His creations, and that all of our amazing creative powers are G-d-given.
This relates to the second answer the Talmud provides to the question of why humans were created last – to instil in us a sense of humility. Because of the awesome Divine greatness within every human being, there could be a natural tendency to arrogance, and so we need to be reminded that we are just G-d’s humble creation. As the Midrash says, even the mosquito was created before us.
A third reason that Adam and Eve were created last on the Friday of creation, says the Talmud, is so they would enter straight into Shabbat. G-d orchestrated creation in such a way that the mitzvah of Shabbat – a full, complete “day of rest” – would be one of humankind’s first experiences on this earth.
The fourth reason is that G-d wanted Adam to walk into a world that was ready and waiting for him. Human beings are the purpose, the pinnacle, of creation. Why? Because, we alone, among all of G-d’s creatures, are blessed with the gift of free will – the ability to do good, to do what’s right, to fulfil the will of G-d, not because we have to, but because we choose to.
The third and fourth reasons are, in fact, connected. According to the third reason, human beings came last in order to go straight into a mitzvah. And Shabbat, we know, is one of the Torah’s foundational mitzvot (in fact, the Talmud itself refers here to Shabbat simply as “the mitzvah”). This is why one of the first experiences humanity was subjected to was Shabbat. One of the first things we did in this world was perform a mitzvah. We were born into mitzvah.
We see that the purpose of creating human beings was for us to serve G-d; to exercise our free will in fulfilling His will through the mitzvot. And G-d created everything for human beings in order that we would serve Him. That is the ultimate purpose of the world.
But there’s another question: G-d created the world in this particular order for the four aforementioned reasons – but why is it necessary to apply this order to the laws of the Torah?
The answer to this is that the Torah and the world are intertwined. They are both creations of G-d and, in a sense, they are actually the same creation. Rav Yerucham Levovitz, one of the heads of the Mir Yeshiva prior to World War II, explains that the Torah’s order parallels the order of creation because Torah is the blueprint of the world – as our sages tell us, G-d looked into the Torah and created the world. This is what the Mishna refers to when it says: “Turn it [the Torah] over and over, for everything is in it.” Everything that we see in this world has its root in Torah.
We see this expressed in another idea. The 613 commandments of the Torah parallel exactly the structure of the human body. The Zohar on parshat Vayishlach says that people have 248 limbs in their body, corresponding to the 248 positive commandments in the Torah, and 365 sinews and ligaments, corresponding to 365 negative commandments.
The Maharal of Prague has another approach. He says that the Torah is actually the continuation of creation. In other words, the world was not complete after the six days. Physically, the world was all there, but spiritually, it would only be brought to fruition with the giving of the Torah much later in human history.
We only reach completion when we live in accordance with G-d’s will as He has set out for us in the Torah. The reason why the structure of the laws in the Torah parallels the structure of the creation of the world is because they are spiritual and physical counterparts. Torah brings the physical world to perfection. All of the commandments of the Torah – how to treat our fellow human beings, giving charity, keeping Shabbos, and everything that comprises Judaism – are there to complete the world. The commandments of the Torah refine us, taking us from a state of incompleteness to a state of completion. Therefore, the Torah is parallel to the world in its structure; it is the continuation of creation.
It’s in this vein that the Book of Bereishit calls the sixth day of creation yom hashishi, “the sixth day”. None of the other days of creation have the definite article. The Talmud explains that “the sixth day” is actually referring to a different, specific “sixth day” – the sixth of Sivan, which was the date the Torah was given. It goes on to say the six days of creation were, in fact, held in suspension until the moment when the Jewish people accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai on the sixth of Sivan – that if, in fact, we had not accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, G-d would have returned the world to “chaos and void”, the state that existed before creation. Thus, the whole of creation was waiting for the sixth day of Sivan.
The Maharal explains that this doesn’t mean G-d had completed the world and would reverse the whole of creation if the Jews did not accept the Torah – rather, that the world was not finished being created. The six days of creation were waiting for their completion and, until the Torah came into the world, there was just chaos and void. The Torah brought order and structure to the chaos by providing the framework for how to live our lives and, in effect, completing the process of creation. Thus, the structure of creation mirrors the structure of the laws of the Torah. Torah is part of the process of creation.
This gives us the correct outlook on the world and our lives. Torah is not just something “extra”, a nice thing to have. It is the very framework and foundation of our lives, lending structure and order to the world. We should not view our lives and the world as merely physical. We must understand that this physical world is a shell and that what really matters is the inner dimension, the soul of the human being and the spiritual and moral code that G-d has given us in His Torah. That is what brings everything to fruition.
On a deeper level, the Maharal is teaching us that fulfilling the Torah is the ultimate creative act.
G-d created the physical infrastructure in the six days of creation, but on the sixth day of Sivan, when He gave us the Torah, He gave us the world’s spiritual infrastructure. Living a life of Torah completes the process of creation that was begun by G-d in the six days of creation.