Posted on October 12, 2023 by Carole Daman
I would like to share the D’var Torah I gave last year on the Shabbos before the yahrzeit of my late husband, Dr. Harlan Daman, Tsvi Hirsh ben Dovid Aryeh.
He died during the week after Simchat Torah so the last Torah portion he heard was the first account of Creation. in honor of his memory, I would like to focus specifically on one word in the story of the creation of humanity. It is the first word that God says there, “Naaseh” “Let us make”.
Several commentators including Ramban have remarked that this is the only time God announces his intention to create something. On all the other occasions He just issues a command. For example “Let there be luminaries” Let the waters teem” “Let the earth bring forth.” The commentators posit that this introduction is in itself an indication that humanity is special, even if as Cassuto suggests God is merely exhorting Himself.
Chazal and Rashi note that the use of the plural may cause idolaters and heretics to view this statement as evidence that there is more than one Supreme Being. In fact, the rabbis who authored the Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint, changed the verb to the singular form to avoid this possibility. Rashi explains that despite this risk God chose to consult with the angels in order to set an example for humanity of how to behave with humility and with respect for those who are beneath you.
Ramban believes that Hashem is addressing the earth, the Adamah, which will provide Adam’s physical body. In contrast to Rashi and Ramban, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch posits that God is addressing, not the angels nor any possible partner in the creation of man but rather the creatures of the world He has already created since He intends for man to be their ruler and master. Hashem is like a king who advises his subjects in advance of the decrees he is issuing in pursuit of their general well-being. Rabbi Hirsch believes that man’s name Adam does not come from Adamah, though the earth does have a role in his creation. Rather he links the word Adam to the color Adom, red, that, as the least broken ray of the spectrum of pure light, is the nearest revelation of the divine in this world. According to Rabbi Hirsch, man is meant to be a representative of God who through his own free will actualizes the Will of God on earth.
Rabbi Sacks zt”l believed that man’s free will is the greatest gift that God gave humanity. Many commentators point out that, unlike the creations on the first five days, the creation of humanity entails the merging of elements from both the upper and lower worlds. This tradition is referenced in a quote Rabbi Sacks brings from the Italian Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola. In his famous work, On the Dignity of Man, Mirandola writes that God tells Adam he has made him “a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal or immortal, in order that you may, as the proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer.”
The angels do not have the abiity to choose and in Bereshit Rabba their concern for how man will use this ability causes them to object to his creation. Indeed, later in Parshat Bereshit, multiple generations of humanity make bad choices. They fail to acknowledge God and to act in accordance with the Divine Will. Eventually, as we are told in the beginning of this week’s haftarah, God, who created the heavens, spread out the earth and gave a soul to human beings, calls upon Bnei Yisroel to be a light to the nations.
The word Naaseh with which Hashem introduced his hopeful creation of all of humanity becomes the word with which Bnei Yisroel accept their mission to be the representatives of God’s will on earth by following His Torah. This exact form of the verb, Naaseh appears only six times in the Torah. In all of its subsequent uses, it is spoken by human beings. The next time it appears is in the mouths of the builders of Migdal Bavel. They do the opposite of what God intended when He created man. They say “V’naaseh lanu shem”, “ we will make for ourselves a name.” Migdal Bavel is the last story before God calls upon Avraham and tells him that He will make him into a great nation and through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Hundreds of years later at Mount Sinai, the Israelites use the term “Naaseh” in three separate statements indicating their acceptance of the Torah and God’s covenant.
The last time the word Naaseh appears in the Torah is near the end of Bamidbar when Bnei Reuven and Bnei Gad agree to accept God’s condition that they will join with their brethren to conquer the Land of Israel before they return to their homes on the east side of the Jordan. This was no small matter! As Moshe tells them when they make their request to settle where they are, their failure to join in the battle for Canaan might have dissuaded the other tribes from crossing into the land that God had promised to their forefathers. This turning away from Hashem and failing to fulfill his plan would cause God in his anger to leave Am Yisroel in the desert not just for forty years but forever.
As a result of examining these appearances of the word Naaseh, I believe that when God begins his creation of humanity with this pronouncement, He is modeling not just humility but also intentionality and commitment. As Rabbi Hirsh has taught, Hashem created man for a purpose. The builders of the Tower of Babel have a different goal in mind, but the descendants of Avraham at Sinai accept the mission of bringing the awareness of God’s name and His expectations of humanity to the rest of the world.
My husband Harlan lived his life with a strong sense of purpose. As a doctor, he fostered the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of his patients. He began saving for his future children’s education years before he started dating seriously. He was a model of humility, compassion and commitment to Torah and the Jewish community for me, his children and many others.
May we all be imbued with a sense of purpose and find joy in following the Torah and making our own unique contributions to the perfection of God’s creation.
My late husband Harlan Daman, Tzvi Hirsch ben Dovid Aryeh, was a wonderful husband and father to Gila who had attended Pardes with me for a few days at a time during two winter breaks during graduate school and our younger son Avi. He was also an amazing doctor who was truly loved by his patients, not only because of his excellent clinical skills but because he valued each of them as a full person. After his funeral, a number of them told me they had no idea that Harlan had had such a special relationship with patients other than themselves. He was an allergist so he saw many of his patients regularly and knew much more about them and kept better records than their primary care physicians so they would come to him about events not related to allergies that their regular doctors had no recollection of. In general, Harlan consciously tried to draw out people’s strengths and compensate himself for their weaknesses.
He was also well-loved at our synagogue, Young Israel of Scarsdale. Besides Shabbos, he went to morning minyan regularly every Monday and Friday. He blew the Shofar for many years at one of the main services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and was Chatan Bereshit a few years before he died. He was a graduate of Westchester Day School, Horace Mann High School, Harvard College and Albert Einstein Medical School. He was a strong role model for both our kids, and my son Avi does a siyum on a tractate of Gemarra on his Yahrzeit every year.