Gedolim Didn't Have Easy
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Published: December 18, 2012
The Greatness of Man
“And Israel came close to the day of his death, and he called to his son, to Joseph, and he said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, do to me a kindness and truth, please do not bury me in Egypt.’” – Genesis 47:29
Rabbeinu Tam, grandson of Rashi and Torah scholar in his own right, explains that Jacob didn't want to be buried in Egypt because this would prevent G-d from bringing the ten plagues on the land in which he lay. Therefore, he asked Joseph to take an oath that he would not bury him there.
This concept seems very difficult to understand. The plagues were critical for teaching belief in G-d to the generations. Why would the mere presence of Jacob’s body, more than two hundred years after his death, prevent G-d from bringing them on?
The Importance of Man, the Reason for Creation
The answer to this question seems to be that the Torah has a vastly different understanding of the role of man and his importance than we commonly assume. Since the world was created solely to serve man, its very existence is dependent upon him. When man uses the world appropriately, he becomes elevated, and the world becomes elevated through him. On the other hand, when man is pulled after the world, he becomes corrupted and thereby corrupts the very world that supports him.
As the sole purpose of the world is to serve man, only when it is used properly does it have a reason to exist. When a righteous person uses a part of the world, he provides that portion with its purpose in existence. Effectively, he is the pillar and sustainer of the world he uses. Without him, that part shouldn't exist. But when a wicked man uses part of the world, he robs it of its reason to exist, and by that account, it should be destroyed.
Jacob Was the Pillar of the World
When a man reaches Jacob's level of perfection, it isn't just the part of the world that he uses that fulfills its reason for existence. Nor is it only his city or hometown that benefits. The entire world gains. On some level, the entire world is needed to support him, and thereby, it serves him. For there to be a land of Canaan, there needs to be a planet Earth, and for there to be a planet Earth, there must be a sun providing light, energy and heat. For there to be sun, there must be a Milky Way providing the gravitational balance to keep the sun in orbit. So just as Canaan cannot exist in a vacuum in space and is supported by the rest of the universe, so, too, everything the righteous man uses is built on another part of the world, and that part thereby fulfills its purpose. Effectively, Jacob kept the entire globe in existence. His proper use of the world was the sustaining factor for the entire Creation.
The Honor Due to the Reason for Creation is Hard to Imagine
For that reason, the honor and respect due to Jacob is beyond our imagination. For decades he was the foundation of the world – he alone kept the entire universe in existence – and as such, the credit due to him is too enormous to comprehend. The mere burial of his body in Egypt would have been such a mitigating factor that G-d would have said (if it could be), "How can I bring plagues on that land? The body of Jacob is buried there!”
Secular Viewpoint: Man Is but One Occupant of the Planet
This is an eye-opening example of the Torah view of the role of man and his importance. It is especially pertinent to us as it contrasts sharply against Western culture's almost universal disregard for the dignity of man. From the Western viewpoint, we are all occupants of the planet: the birds, the fish, the sheep, the cows, and man. Some fly, some crawl, and some walk, but our ancestry is the same, and so is our purpose and destiny.
Even though we feel ourselves apart and distinct from the prevailing culture of the times, it still has an effect, often tainting our own thinking and attitudes.
The real danger of a non-Torah perspective is that we begin to set our goals and aspirations according to those limiting beliefs. If the human is but an animal that walks and talks, then he is no different than the rest of the animal kingdom. How much can we expect from him? After all, the call of the wild dominates, and why should man be any different? He is but a beast, ruled by drives and passions. As such, we can't expect much from him beyond what we would expect from a dog or horse.
The Torah's View of Man
From the Torah's perspective, on the other hand, man is unique in Creation. Not only does he tower over nature, he is the reason for it all. The cosmos themselves depend on him for their very existence. This understanding allows a person to perceive his greatness and potential, to recognize what he is capable of, and to set his expectations and goals accordingly.
One of the great truisms in life is that you live up to what you expect of yourself. Only when a person understands that he has almost limitless potential can he set lofty goals, aspire to them, and reach the potential that G-d has given him, to be a truly great individual – the reason for Creation.
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