Shabbat Parashat Beaalotchai| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Nature of Man - From Perakim B’machshevet Yisrael- pp. 146-7
“In the image of Hashem did He create man” (Bereishit 9:6). Man has something of the glory of his Master. How does this find expression? There are three answers that are given to this in Jewish tradition: the philosophical (R. Saadia Gaon), the moral (R. Moshe Chayim Luzzato= Ramchal), and the kabbalistic (R. Chayim of Volozhin).
The philosophical approach sees the greatness of man in his intellect. This is what gives man the ability to take dominion over the universe. It also enables him to grasp and recognize his Maker and to set for himself a course in life. It is true that man is on a lower level than the angels, because he is bound to a body. But through his actions, he is capable of acquiring for his soul the levels of eternity. Man’s weaknesses, his diseases, and his torment do not need to overly afflict him. They are appropriate for him as they inculcate in him the feeling of submission before the Divine Power.
According to this approach, man’s inclinations are not bad, for they are needed in certain ways and in those ways they help man. For one, these inclinations help man preserve the body he was given. It is true that the inclinations at times take over a person, but that is where his intellect is supposed to step in. The intellect is responsible to serve as an overseeing authority, allowing one’s inclinations both to work and to remain within certain boundaries. Whoever does not use his intellect in this capacity, but, to the contrary, enslaves the mind to the inclinations, is not doing his job.
However, it is insufficient for the intellect to suffice with curbing the inclinations. Rather, it should be involved in intellectual pursuit, the most central and elevated of which being the recognition of the Maker. Only then can man be the center of the creation. Based on this assumption, the Rambam sees only the select few of humanity as worthy of being considered the crown of creation. The rest play only a secondary role. “If not for the crazy ones, the world would be desolate.” Indeed, the physical development of the world is also important, for without it the scholars would not be able to do their job. Thus, the world is like an organism, in which each part does its job. But it is the scholars, who maximize the gift of the intellect, who fill the job of the head.
The Mesilat Yesharim of Ramchal has a different approach, which is the cornerstone of the mussar (morality) approach to Judaism. That is that man’s greatest uniqueness is not in the intellectual realm, but in his ability to control his desires. Man does not choose that which he conceives intellectually but that which he desires. The Ramchal explains that the intellect is not really autonomous and indeed follows that which the person chooses. The great gift of man is the ability to decide matters. If a person decides in favor of his intellect, then he frees it and enslaves his desire to it. On the other hand, he can decide in favor of his desires and enslave his intellect to them. The opportunity that man has to bring himself over to one side or to another on the moral plane is that which raises the value of good that he does based on his freedom to decide. It gives him “ownership” on his actions, and this is the aspect that raises man above the level of angels.
A supplementary approach is the kabbalistic one. It stresses that man’s free choice has the ability to spiritually influence not only himself but actually influence the universe. Man’s actions can breathe life into worlds and elevate them, or, inversely, destroy, lower, or ruin worlds. This puts great responsibility on man, but this responsibility is also the secret of his greatness.
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