Haftaras Vayeishev

In this week’s haftarah, Amos declares in Hashem’s Name (3:2): “You alone did I know among all the families upon the earth; therefore, I shall hold you to account for all your iniquities.” In Ohel Yaakov, Parashas Bereishis, the Maggid interprets this verse as referring to mankind as a whole. He builds on the following Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 8:1):
R. Nachman said: “Man is the last to have been created, and the first to face punishment.” R. Shmuel said: “In the world’s chorus of praise to Hashem, too, man appears last. Thus we see from Tehillim 148, which describes this chorus of praise. The psalm begins with the heavenly realm: the angels, the sun, the moon, the stars, and so on. It then continues with the earthly realm: the sea and its creatures; fire, hail, snow, and wind; mountains, hills, and trees; animals, insects, and birds. Finally comes man: the nations of the world with their kings, officers, and judges; men and women, the old and the young.” R. Simlai said: “Just as man is the last to give praise, so, too, he is the last to have been created.”
Hashem granted to each creation a set of characteristic traits, and then infused man with the entire gamut of traits that exist within nature. As our Sages say, man is a “miniature universe.” This, the Zohar teaches (Pinchas 238), is why man was created after all other creations – so that all their features could be incorporated with him. Similarly, the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 8:3 teaches that, on the sixth day of creation, when Hashem was about to create man, He “consulted” with all the creations He had brought forth on each of the previous days. All these creations served as templates for the various elements that Hashem would build within man.
Hashem had a specific purpose in carrying out creation in this way. The universe is designed as an ensemble of praise to Hashem, with man as the leader. Each creation has its part to play. Yet, since the creations other than man have no free will, the glory they provide Hashem on their own is limited. Man, who encompasses the traits of all other creations, brings the expression of Hashem’s glory within the world to its ultimate level. By choosing, with his free will, to devote all these traits to serving Hashem, man causes every creation’s praise of Hashem to ring forth with full strength.
In so doing, man conveys Divine blessing to the entire world. We can compare the world, with its various constituents, to a group of middle-class men engaging in a joint business venture. None of them on his own has enough funds for serious business, but by pooling their funds, they amass a substantial sum. They appoint an agent to conduct business with the pooled funds, and then divide the profits in proportion to what each one contributed. Similarly, so to speak, the creations of the world operate a joint venture of serving Hashem. Each creation entrusts its traits to man, and the combination of them all enables man to serve Hashem in a consummate fashion. In response, Hashem grants the world blessing, and each creation takes its share. Thus, when man devotes all aspects of his being to serving Hashem, he sanctifies the entire world and brings it blessing. Conversely, when man uses his powers for in a perverted way, as in the generation of the flood, he perverts the entire world.
It is in this vein that the Midrash says: “Man is the last to have been created, and the first to face punishment.” Man is the last to have been created because he encompasses the features of all other creations, to the end of bringing the entire world to its goal. For the very same reason, he is the first to face punishment – for when the world degenerates, he is the one responsible.
This idea is reflected in the verse from this week’s haftarah that we quoted at the outset: “You alone did I know among all the families upon the earth; therefore, I shall hold you to account for all your iniquities.” All the evil in the world is attributed to man, for he is the one who brings it about. Accordingly, the Midrash teaches: “If man merits, he will enjoy both this world and the next, …, and if not, he will be brought to account.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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