In an article for New Year 5774 (1 of 2), Rav Cherki explains how human history shows how to combine conflicting values.
According to our traditions, we mark the creation of Adam on Rosh Hashanah. This corresponds to the main opinion in the Talmud – that Adam first appeared in the world on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the year.
The description of Adam’s creation in the Torah is very interesting: “And G-d said, let us make a man, in our image and in our form” [Genesis 1:26]. This is a very profound verse, which can lead to mistaken interpretations. I would like to concentrate on the exact wording of the verse, specifically on the fact that it is written in the plural: “Let us…” But G-d is one, He is unique. Why does he speak in the plural? One way to explain this is that the verse uses the “Royal We.” It is the way that kings speak.
According to the Midrash, this verse implies that when He wanted to create man, G-d first consulted with the angels. However, G-d did not discuss any other creatures before creating them on His own. Why, when the time came to create mankind, did He consult with the angels? And just who were these angels that the Master of the Universe consulted?
The Midrash tells us G-d discussed the creation of man with four angels. Who were they? They were related to four specific traits: kindness, truth, justice, and peace.
In essence, the four “angels” represent ethical values. Why should G-d ask them about the creation of man? Evidently, mankind is expected to fulfill these four values. The fact that G-d “consults with the angels” means that man has a task to fulfill – to perform acts of kindness, truth, justice, and peace.
However, as soon as so many values must be taken into account together, at the same time, the matter becomes very difficult. For example, if man had been created solely to fulfill the objective of being kind, things would have been very easy. No matter what happened he would know what he was supposed to do. But what happens when he must uphold two values at once, both kindness and truth? After all, they intrinsically contradict each other. In general, if somebody asks me to be kind to him, then the act of kindness means that I have moved away from absolute truth. The only way to maintain full truth is to relax the trait of kindness somewhat. The same is true of the second pair, justice and peace. We can strive for justice, but there are times when it is necessary to wage war. How can we solve these dilemmas?
At times, in order to bring justice to the world, it is necessary to give up on the value of achieving peace, while in order to have full peace, it might be necessary to weaken the trait of strict justice. With its unique brand of humor, the Midrash tells us that the four angels started to argue. Kindness said man should be created, since he performs kind acts. Truth said that man should not be created because he is involved in lying. Justice said he should be created, because he is just, but peace said he should not, because he wages war.
And then, while the dispute between the ethical values continued, G-d sat on the sidelines and created man without telling the angels. When they stopped arguing, He said to them that man had already been created. (That is, the word “na’asseh,” which was translated above as “Let us make…” in the future, could also mean the past tense – “man has been created” in our image and in our form.)
According to the Midrash, the four angels were very upset. Truth especially felt that his value was trampled over. He started to shout, “You have done something that is the opposite of truth.” What did G-d do? He took hold of truth and threw it to the earth, as is written, “Truth will be thrown to the earth” [Daniel 8:12].
And then all the angels reacted, and they said, “Master of the Universe, if this is what You do, what about Your seal?” Their implication was that without truth none of the other values had any meaning. And the Holy One, Blessed be He, replied, let the truth rise up from the earth, as is written, “Truth will grow up from the earth” [Psalms 85:12].
What is the meaning of all of this? It means that the Holy One, Blessed be He, was aware of something that the angels did not know. The Holy One, Blessed be He, knows the secret of time. Mankind has the ability to act within the historical process. If it is necessary to simultaneously fulfill the goals of both kindness and truth, of both justice and peace, there is no way to achieve the goal, and there is no justification to create the world. But if man is given time to develop, through the process of history, there will be times when kindness dominates, times when truth dominates, and other times when justice or peace are most important. Ever so slowly, a synthesis will be created that includes all the values. And that is the meaning of the verse, “Truth will grow up from the earth.”
Growth and development, even if it is quite rapid, takes time. That is the secret of mankind, the special unique trait of man that the angels do not recognize. It is man’s ability to develop subjective criteria as history proceeds, and through the process of history to bring about the victory of truth. In that way, mankind will be able to declare, “G-d is Elohim!” [I Kings 18:39].
Through His trait of truth, the Holy One, Blessed be He, is victorious over all the other gods, all the other partial values and traits. And this is the task which was given to the nation of Israel – to bring about the victory of truth, mercifully showing the entire world how to combine all the ethical values together.
Happy New Year.