Shabbos Parashas Bereishis

Regarding the creation of man, the Torah reports that Hashem said (Bereishis 1:26): “Let us make man (נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם), in our image and likeness ….” The Midrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 8:5):
When Hashem was about to create the first man, the ministering angels grouped into various factions. Some said he should not be created, and some said he should. … While the angels were debating, Hashem created him.
It seems from this Midrash, the Maggid notes, that the Sages are reading נעשה as נַעֲשָׂה  – he was [already] made. This reading, though, runs counter to the simple meaning of the verse, which is that Hashem was saying to the angels, “Let us make man” – that Hashem was, so to speak, consulting with them, as the Sages themselves note in an earlier Midrash (ibid. 8:4). Yet, taken at face value, the verse is bewildering: What need could Hashem have to seek advice?
The Maggid quotes a Gemara passage that presents a related teaching (Sanhedrin 38b):
When Hashem was about to create man, He first created an assembly of ministering angels and asked them: “Do you think it would be good for Me to create a man in our image?” They responded: “Master of the Universe, what will his deeds be like?” Hashem told them. The angels said (Tehillim 8:5): “What is a mortal, that You are mindful of him – a man, that You take note of him?” Hashem then cast His little finger at them and burned them. With a second assembly of angels, it was the same. Hashem put the question to a third assembly of angels, and they said: “The first two assemblies gave You their opinion, and what was the use of this? The entire world is Yours – do whatever You wish within it.” After the generation of the flood and the generation of the dispersion, during which man behaved despicably, they said: “Master of the Universe! The first two assemblies spoke well, didn’t they?” Hashem responded (Yeshayah 46:4): “Until [man’s] old age I remain as I am; until [his] hoary years I shall tolerate him. I have made and I shall bear; I shall tolerate and I shall rescue.”
This teaching, too, seems bizarre. What point was there in Hashem’s creating assemblies of angels and asking their advice, only to disregard it?
The Maggid explains the matter with a parable. A baron sent an agent to another town to buy for him a certain fancy and expensive vessel. The baron warned him not to come back without it. After arriving at the town and looking all around, he found only one such item available. It was owned by a certain merchant, who demanded a high price. The agent entered into lengthy negotiations with the merchant, involving multiple visits to the merchant’s store. When they were nearing a final agreement, an unscrupulous local broker learned of their discussions and decided to try to make some money from the situation. He went to the merchant and said: “I know, my friend, as well as you, about the serious flaw in this item. If you don’t pay me to keep quiet, I will tell your customer about it, and he will back out of the deal.” The merchant was incensed, and he exclaimed: “Get out of here, you scoundrel! I’m not giving you a penny.” The broker then approached the baron’s agent and told him about the flaw. The agent was taken aback, and indeed decided not to buy the item.
After a couple of days, however, he calmed down and reconsidered. He realized that he could not return to his master without the item. So he met again with the merchant, bought the item, and went back home. When he gave the item to the baron, however, the baron decided he didn’t want it. In response, the agent raced back to the merchant to try to cancel the purchase. He said: “I found a serious flaw in this item. Take it back, and give me back my money.” The merchant replied: “No way, my friend. I know that a local broker told you about the flaw while we were still negotiating. But you let it go, and bought the item anyway. So now you have no right to cancel.”
The moral, the Maggid says, is as follows. Hashem knew in advance that man would be prone to sin. Yet, sin controverts the purpose that man was created for, which is to honor Hashem by showing awe for Him and obeying His commands. In truth, a sin on man’s part would make it fitting for Hashem to turn the world back to primeval nothingness. Indeed, from the standpoint of strict justice, even repentance should not be possible. Accordingly, before creating man, Hashem laid a foundation that would maintain man’s existence despite his fallibility. As our Sages teach (see Rashi on Bereishis 1:1), ideally the world should operate on strict justice alone, but Hashem foresaw that a world run this way could not survive, so He added a complementary element of mercy – that is, an element of tolerance.
The Gemara that the Maggid quoted describes how Hashem laid this foundation. He created the assemblies of angels, heard them tell Him not to create man, and then created him anyway – as He wanted to in the first place. The purpose of this exercise was to protect man from being obliterated because of his sins. Once Hashem “decided” to create man despite hearing the angels tell Him in advance that it would be a mistake, He no longer had the “right” to cancel what He had done. He was bound, so to speak, to live with His decision. And so, in response to the angels’ outcry over the generations of the flood and the dispersion, Hashem declared: “I have made and I shall bear.” Hashem was saying that since He created man despite his flaws, He accepted upon Himself to bear them.
The Midrash that the Maggid quoted at the outset is in the same vein. The Midrash describes the angels debating over whether man should be created. But at the time this debate was taking place, man had already been created, in the sense that Hashem had already decided to create him. Hashem was not seeking the angels’ advice. Yet, He wanted the arguments against creating man to be voiced, so that it would be clear that He was overriding these arguments, and was fully accepting the consequences that the creation of man would entail.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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