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yesh omrim

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Indifferent creation, purposeful creation

1 March 2004

I was a good boy (in one respect) this week: I read the whole parsha, twice in Hebrew and once in translation. But I still can’t think of anything remotely profound to say about it. So I’m going to crib from one of my favorite comentators, Yeshayahu Leibowitz ztz”l. The following is excerpted from Accepting the Yoke of Heaven, his anthology of divrei Torah that were originally given on Israeli radio and TV.

Reb Leibowitz observes that while the whole story of the creation of the world takes up less than 40 verses, this parsha has over 250 verses describing the construction of the Sanctuary and its various utensils. He goes on:

The Torah did not come to give man information on the construction of the world, but to tell him something about the significance of the existence of man himself within the framework of the world: and the significance of this is that one must serve God. The world in itself, as we recognize it, was given to us as something that God had created; whatever is — is, regardless of how man relates to it. That is why all of creation is indifferent in regard to goals, duties, or obligations, and even in regard to man’s beliefs, views, opinions, expectations, hopes and visions.

But this small sanctuary was not a natural given, but the product of human activity in accordance with a mitzvah of the Torah…

That means that only what is related to the tasks imposed on man, and not what is given to him naturally — i.e., only expresses a demand made upon man, or obligations imposed upon him — it is this that is of importance and significance. The world and all in it lack significance, and if I know it as we know it from scientific research, there is nothing left for me to ask about my relation to it. But in the world of values, the mitzvot imposed upon man, the obligations that man accepts upon himself — these are not givens of nature. And this sanctuary, which has no meaning except for the goal of serving God, and man constructs it for that purpose — it is that which symbolizes the service of God as the highest value…

…It is not the world in itself that is significant: what is significant is the service of God in the world.