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WITH YOUR PERMISSION

by Rabbi Elie Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

On the sixth day of Creation, Hashem introduces His act of creating Man with the words, "Let us make Man" (Genesis 1:26). This phrase is not only confusing, but it almost seems to invite the reader to make a huge mistake in understanding the text.

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On the sixth day of Creation, Hashem introduces His act of creating Man with the words, "Let us make Man" (Genesis 1:26). This phrase is not only confusing, but it almost seems to invite the reader to make a huge mistake in understanding the text. The use of the word "us" sounds like Hashem needed to ask another being before creating Man, that He was unable to do so alone. Rashi, the classic commentator on the Torah, explains that it refers to G-d's speaking with the angels, "taking their permission" as it were. Rashi continues that although Hashem certainly has no need for the advice or the help of angels, and although the statement could be grossly misunderstood, He still wrote this in the Torah for an overriding reason. This reason was to teach us the attribute of humility, that it is always proper for the greater of two beings to ask permission from the lesser one.

In fact, two thousand years later, we find Abraham acting with just that very same type of humility. When G-d approaches Abraham to command that he offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, Hashem opens the address by first calling Abraham by name. Abraham responds with the Hebrew word "hineni" (Genesis 22:1), which means "here I am". Rashi informs us that this Hebrew term is "a language of humility, a language of readiness." Abraham answered G-d in a humble and ready way, as a true servant to his Master. It is fascinating to observe that just a few lines further, when Isaac calls out to Abraham, "My father," that Abraham once again responds with this word "hineni", demonstrating that Abraham acted with a deep sense of humility, even to his son.

A beautiful expression of this lesson in our daily halachic practice arises in the laws of how to break bread. There the Mishnah Berurah (274:2), the standard text for practical observance, states that if a head of a household is reciting the blessing on bread for others in addition to himself, then he should preface with the phrase, "Birshut - with [your] permission." Although the bread belongs to the head of the household and he, technically, has no need to ask others for permission to break bread, it is still "the way of humility" to do so.

Our sages tell us that Hashem directs His Torah to the humble. For that very reason He gave the Jewish people the Torah on the low Mt. Sinai. At the beginning of this new cycle of the Torah, let us hope that this lesson helps us merit to better understand each phrase in His Torah.

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Rabbi Elie Cohen, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is an educator at the Columbus Torah Academy in Ohio.

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