By Rabbi Alana Suskin
This week’s Torah portion is Bereshit: Genesis 1:1-6:8.
There is a famous story in the midrash about the creation of humanity: When God began to create the first human, the angels banded into groups, some saying “Let him be created,” and others saying, “Let him not be created.” Lovingkindness said, “Create! Because humanity will perform acts of lovingkindness.” Truth said, “Don’t create! Because humanity will be full of falsehood.” Justice said, “Create! Because humanity will do justice!” Peace said, “Don’t create! Because humanity will be full of strife.”
What did God do?
God took truth and threw it to the ground.
The midrash is a remarkable moment in which the sages take what is intended to be the apex moment of the creation story — the creation of humanity — and they question it.
Should humans have been created at all? Truth and peace square off against love and justice.
What can it mean?
The Chasidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk was known for his relentless love and pursuit of truth over all else. He commented on this midrash, “Why did God throw down truth, but not peace? After all, peace, too, said that humanity should not be created. Rather, one should know that when one throws away truth, peace results.
His chasidim were stunned. What could he possibly mean, this man who has spent his entire life pursuing truth? The Kotsker rebbe explained: The source of strife is that each person fights for their own view of truth. Once that is no longer standing before them, there is no longer a cause to quarrel, and peace has nothing to complain about.
The Kostker rebbe’s elaboration reminds us that each of us can be blinded by our own perspective. Instead, we need to be aware that humans cannot see the full truth, as God does — instead, we need to “throw down” that “truth,” because … it isn’t really the truth and it prevents us from creating peace.
It is no accident that it is Lovingkindness and Justice who advocate for human creation, because it is through those aspects of our nature that we are able to see past our own perspective and seek genuine truth.
But there is a coda: When Rabbi Leibele Eiger, who had studied with the Kotsker rebbe, returned home, his father asked him “What did you learn in Kotsk?”
He replied, “I learned three things: First, that a human is a human and an angel is an angel. Second, that if a person wishes to, they can become greater than an angel. And third, the Torah says, ‘In the beginning, God created…’ God only created the beginning and left the rest to humankind.”
Human nature is a tricky thing. The angels are fixed, their natures pure and unchanging, their actions directed by God, incapable of the contradictions of humankind. But that is our glory as well. As Rabbi Eiger learned, we are capable of being so much more than our natures — we have within us the capacity to become creatures that can seek Truth, by setting aside our tendency to believe that we already know it. In doing so, we grow peace, and God smiles.
Rabbi Alana Suskin is managing editor of Jewschool.com.