Created Only After Man

Human beings are different than the rest of the world’s species. We are the only ones who believe that our lives are supposed to matter and, thus, the only ones who become depressed when we feel like we are not impactful. These feelings emanate from Hashem‘s having created us in His image, which endows us with the ability and responsibility to direct the rest of creation. This role sets us apart and empowers us in the grand scheme of the world’s development.[1]


Hashem created man with a sense of responsibility for the world and the world as dependent upon man. We see this dependency from the delay of the emergence of the world’s vegetation until man was created to cultivate it.[2] Hashem could have developed the world without, or at least before, man’s creation. He waited for man because He intended for man to maintain and develop the world.



Created Incomplete

Our contributions to the world are not just significant; they are indispensable. Hashem created us and the world in unfinished states, deliberately leaving room for us to complete the process. This underscores the value and importance of our actions in the grand scheme of creation, a testament to our significance and Hashem‘s appreciation of our role.


Rebbe Akiva made this point in multiple conversations with Turnus Rufus, a Roman philosopher and general. Turnus Rufus asked Rebbe Akiva why we circumcise ourselves[3] and give tzedakah.[4] If Hashem wanted us to be circumcised, He could have created us that way. Similarly, if He wished the poor to have money, He could easily give it to them. Why do we intervene and change the nature of G-d’s world?


Rebbe Akiva answered that Hashem created man and the world needing completion so He could command us to finish the job. Because the world is meant to be a context in which human beings grow, Hashem created things in a form that leaves room for us to grow by playing a role.[5]


Rebbe Akiva added that we see this idea not only through the mitzvah of milah but already at the moment of our birth when we need to cut the umbilical cord to survive. Our creation this way teaches us our need to develop ourselves and the world. The first moment of our lives symbolizes the importance of our role in improving Hashem’s creations.


Rav Hoshaya, who had a similar conversation with a philosopher about the mitzvah of milah, sourced this idea from the Torah’s characterization of Hashem’s creation (within the description of Shabbat) as “asher barah Elokim la’asot.[6] Hashem ceased creating after six days, leaving all His creations needing more follow-up asiya (action).[7] For example, wheat needs grinding, and mustard needs sweetening. He left all of this to man, who serves as Hashem’s partner by finishing His work.[8]



Even Greater Than G-d’s

Rebbe Akiva further elaborated on his point. Unlike Turnus Rufus, who perceived G-d’s deeds as “greater” than man’s, Rebbe Akiva championed man’s actions. He argued that while Hashem’s creation is a precondition for man’s contribution, man’s efforts take Hashem’s creation to a greater and higher level. This means that our actions, when aligned with Hashem‘s will, have the potential to elevate and enhance His creation.


Bar Kapara made a similar point regarding the construction of the Mishkan. Many midrashim learn, from the Torah’s usage of terms reminiscent of the creation of the world to describe the building of the Mishkan, that the construction of the Mishkan was as significant as the creation of the world.[9] We respond to Hashem’s creation of the world for us by creating the Mishkan “for Him.”


Bar Kapara took it even further and learned from the Mishkan that the deeds of tzaddikim are greater than Hashem’s.[10] This is not to say that tzaddikim are greater than Hashem, but rather that their actions, when aligned with His will, have the potential to enhance His creation. Hashem created a beautiful world. Tzaddikim take it to a higher level when they develop it properly.


In addition to its objective significance, Hashem used the contributions towards the Mishkan to help the Jewish people appreciate their significance. This is why the Torah describes the donations of the Jewish people as “raising their heads,”[11] symbolizing their elevated status and the pride they should feel in their ability to build a sanctuary for Hashem’s presence in this world.[12]



Appreciating What We Do

Building a Mishkan, circumcision, tzedakah, and farming are not our only significant actions. Every good deed we perform, no matter how small, is important and impactful. Each of these deeds improves and brings blessing to the world.[13] Our recognition and praise of Hashem gives meaning to His presence in this world. This is why Tehillim describes Hashem as “yosheiv tehilot Yisrael.”[14]


Unfortunately, we do not always realize or remember this. The medrash[15] tells us that had Reuven known that Hashem would record how he (initially) saved Yosef from his brothers, he would have picked him up on his shoulders and taken him back to Yaakov. Had Boaz known that Hashem would record the food he gave Rut, he would have provided her with a lavish meal.


Like those of Reuven and Boaz, Hashem also records our actions because they are significant.[16] They may seem insignificant in our eyes, but they are important to Hashem and to the world.[17]


Rabbeinu Yonah opens his sefer Sha’arei Ha’Avodah by emphasizing the importance of appreciating the significance of our actions. He presents this as the “first porthole” towards avodat Hashem. Only through this appreciation can we truly be inspired to serve Him properly. Recognizing the importance of our actions should motivate us to take our avodat Hashem seriously and be diligent in our observance.


Our Torah study is also of great value. Pirkei Avot[18] teaches us that Hashem’s presence resides among those learning Torah. Sefer HaTanya[19] adds that the angels and celestial bodies also gather to hear the Torah studied and innovated in our world. Because they are unable to develop the Torah that speaks to and within our physical world, they come to hear us doing so.



Our physicality and presence in an earthly world should not cause us to see our efforts as insignificant. This reality actually makes our actions and study even more meaningful; realizing this should make us proud to serve Hashem.[20] n




Rav Reuven Taragin is the Dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and the Educational Director of World Mizrachi and the RZA.

His new book, Essentials of Judaism, can be purchased at

[1] Bereishit 1:26-28.

[2] Ibid 2:5.

[3] Medrash Tanchuma Tazria 5.

[4] Bava Batra 10a.

[5] See Sefer HaChinuch (2) who adds that our responsibility to circumcise ourselves hints to the fact that we need to improve ourselves spiritually as well.

[6] Bereishit 2:3.

The Kotzker Rebbe saw this idea as implicit in the Torah’s first word — Bereishit. The Rebbe explained that the word aims to teach us that Hashem only created the “reishit (beginning).” He left the rest to man.

[7] Bereishit Rabbah 11:5.

[8] See Shabbat 10a and 119b.

[9] Medrash Tanchuma Pikudei 2 and Shemot Rabba 48:3. See also Berachot 55a and Megillah 10b.

[10] Ketuvot 5a.

[11] Bava Batra 10b and Pesikta Rabbati 10. See also Ohr HaChayim Shemot 30:12.

[12] Ultimately, it is our actions and contributions that give us true significance. This is the message of the fact that the Torah mandates counting Jews by having them contribute money. We count because and when we contribute.

[13] See Nefesh HaChayim, Sha’ar 1 who presents this idea in great detail.

[14] Tehillim 22:4. See also Tehillim 68:35.

[15] Vayikra Rabbah 34:8.

[16] Avot 3:1.

[17] See Chovot Halevavot, Sha’ar Cheshbon Hanefesh 8.

[18] Avot 3:2,6.

[19] Iggeret Hakodesh 26.

[20] This is how many (see, for example, Yosher Divrei Emet 27 and Shem MiShmuel 5677) explain Divrei HaYamim’s description of Yehoshafat as “elevated in the ways of Hashem” (Divrei Hayamim II 17:6).


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