A wise man, Reb Zusha, once said of himself: “When you

go up to heaven, you will not be asked why you were not

Moses. You will be asked why you didn’t become yourself.”

As humans, we are spiritually dynamic — something that cannot be said about any other creature. When it comes to spiritual growth, animals are completely static. While they can develop emotional relationships, acquire new skills, and mature both physically and intellectually, they cannot grow spiritually. The Hebrew word for “animal,” beheimah (בהמה), reflects this reality. The word beheimah is made up of two words, bah mah (מה בה), which means, “in it, there is ‘what.’”

The total reality (“whatness”) of the animal is already inside the animal. It has no growth potential. [1] Animals are incapable of having a moral vision or of pursuing a spiritual trajectory. You will never find a lion sitting on a rock having an existential crisis about the meaning of life. From a spiritual point of view, animals are born complete.

The same is true about angels. Although much more spiritual than animals, angels cannot grow spiritually. The prophet Zechariah contrasts the angels with man. Angels are creatures that stand, while man walks. [2] Angels praise G-d standing with their feet together, in a position

of no movement and no growth, because that is what they were created to do. [3]

In a way, angels and animals are actually very similar. Angels see G-d so clearly that they have no option but to cleave to G-d. Animals are so moved by their instinct that they are pre-programmed to do G-d’s will. The former’s intelligence and clarity are their instinct; the latter’s

instinct is their clarity and intelligence. [4]

But man is different. Man cannot find redemption by simply being. Man is called adam from the word adamah, which means “ground.” Just like the ground has to produce its potential by yielding its crops and fruits, so too, man’s very name reflects the idea that he starts out as

all-potential. [5] To be human is to grow. Man needs to give birth to himself, again and

again. [6]


[1] Maharal, Tiferet Yisrael, Chapter 3.

[2] Zechariah 3:7; Isaiah 6:2 also describes one category of angels, the seraphim, as standing.

[3] Beit Elohim of the Mabit, Chapter 5.

[4] Rabbi Alexander Safran, The Kabbalah: Law and Mysticism in the Jewish Tradition (Feldheim).

[5] Maharal, Tiferet Yisrael, Chapter 3. Hence, the creation of the body of man is uniquely called

“dust from the earth” (Genesis 2:7), even though all living beings were similarly created; Maharal, ibid.

[6] Maharal, Gur Aryeh, Genesis 6:15.

Continue reading Man — The Forever Incomplete Being.

Read the previous essay, The Negative Inclination.

Purchase a copy of The Human Challenge.

Olami Resources is happy to present a series of free installments featuring Rabbi Avraham Edelstein’s important new book, The Human Challenge. This week’s essay is from Section One – A Purposeful Life.

Rabbi Avraham Edelstein serves as the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on OlamiResources.com.

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