Rosh Hashana 5778- First Day

Our family was once visiting the National Gallery in Washington. As we passed through the gallery’s display of the works of the Impressionists, we found an artist sitting near one of the paintings with her easel and canvas, working to reproduce one of those beautiful portraits. We stopped to study her piece, which was an excellent copy of the original. As she continued to paint, I complimented her work and said she must be pleased that she is almost done. She looked at me and smiled. “Almost done?! I am not even halfway done.” I was surprised because to me it appeared that she had essentially completed the portrait. “Do you see the original, the glow of the skin, the coloring of the eyes? I have to keep going over and over my canvas, carefully and methodically adding layers and touches until my painting will become nearly that beautiful.”

היום הרת עולם. Today is the anniversary of creation, of the creation of man. The anniversary of when G-d said נעשה אדם בצלמינו כדמותינו, “Let us make man in our image, in the image of G-d.” A human being is a magnificent creature, uniquely created in the image of G-d. On this day, G-d inspired us with the breath of life, and with that He granted us our essence – His essence – the soul, a piece of G-d Himself, חלק אלוק ממעל.

But G-d did not create a finished product. We are not complete the day we are born. Every day, every year, we add another layer, a little glow to the cheeks and color to the eyes of that beautiful being that each of us is supposed to be, that each of us is supposed to make of ourselves.

I once hailed a cab in Jerusalem, and told the driver that I was headed to Yeshivas Chevron in Givat Mordechai. He paused, took a breath, and looked at me wistfully. “Did you know Rav Broide?” I replied affirmatively, as I indeed had the privilege to spend a bit of time with Rav Simcha Zissel Broide z”l, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron. In the early 80’s he had come to Baltimore for the better part of a year to receive eye treatment at the world-famous Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins. While here, he resided and gave classes at Ner Israel. The classes were elegant and brilliant, like the man himself.

I once had the privilege to take him to a doctor’s appointment. He was so warm, so friendly and gracious. When we arrived at the office, the receptionist lit up and greeted him with such warmth and respect, like family. That was the way he had greeted her. It was beautiful to see.

“Yes, I knew him.”

“What a man”, said the driver. “I used to drive him often. Because of him, I stopped driving my cab on Shabbos. Not because of anything he said, just because of who he was.”

That is the work of art, the beautiful portrait. That is what a man is supposed to look like. Good, gracious, kind and giving to the point where simply meeting such a person affects you.

And this is not reserved for the great Torah scholar. It is an image each of us needs to complete, layer upon layer, adding glow to the cheeks and color to the eyes.

נעשה אדם, “Let us make man.” To whom was G-d speaking? Who would be His partner in our creation? Some (see Rashi) say G-d was consulting the angels, when He proposed creating another being who would share the spirituality of the angels. Others (Ramban) say that G-d was addressing the earth, as the earth would be G-d’s partner in our creation, as it would provide the body while G-d would provide the soul.

However, the Zohar (see below) suggests that G-d was actually speaking to US, to you and to me, to the man He was about to create. “Let US make man.” “I will start, but I need you to finish. I will give you the raw materials, the potential, but you need to make yourself into the full Divine Being that man can be.”

בצלם אלקים. On this day, we were created in the “image of G-d”. That is the picture of what we are supposed to be, and that is the image we must complete. But what exactly does it mean to be in “the image of G-d”? On the most fundamental level, it describes what man can, and must, look like as a person of character, והלכת בדרכיו, that we emulate G-d’s ways, that we follow His guidance and really end up looking like Him, מה הוא רחום אף אתה מה הוא חנון אף אתה, being compassionate like G-d, being gracious like G-d.

Many have seen the blowing of the Shofar as commemorating and reenacting that moment that occurred on this day at the beginning of time, when G-d breathed life into us, when He endowed us with our essence, with our soul. But on another level, as we will emphasize in the Mussaf, we also commemorate when G-d again gave of His breath, when He blew the Shofar at Sinai, on a day – יום הששי – that our Sages saw as the day that man’s creation was advanced, when we were given the gift of Torah, the ultimate tool for our refinement as human beings.

And it is that tool, that second infusion of breath, of life, that adds the glow to the cheeks and the color to the eyes, that guides us in making that image of man – that image of G-d – that much more beautiful and perfect. שפרו מעשיכם.

As the Talmud (TB Yoma 86a) says, our goal is Kiddush Hashem. Our goal is that when people encounter us, whether those people are non-Jews we encounter in our work or in the store; whether they are Jewish colleagues, friends or neighbors; or whether they are our children, parents or spouses: when they see us, when they see how refined we are in our interactions with others, when they see our kindness and our honesty, they will exclaim: Ploni who has studied Torah, whose life is guided by Judaism and observance, do you see how beautiful, how pleasant are his actions? How fortunate, are his parents and his teachers to have created such a human being!

That is what we are supposed to look like. Good like G-d; kind like G-d; compassionate like G-d; gracious and giving like G-d; patient like G-d.

That is how we are to complete the portrait. Those are the layers of nuance that we must add to the portrait, to add glow to the cheeks and color to the eyes.

In the beginning of the Zohar (ח”א יג:), it distills the core mandates of man, and presents the ninth such mandate as follows:

זוהר חלק א דף יג/ב

פקודא תשיעאה, למיחן למסכני, ולמיהב לון טרפא, דכתיב נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו, נעשה אדם בשותפא כלל דכר ונוקבא, בצלמנו עתירי כדמותנו מסכני דהא מסטרא דדכורא עתירי, ומסטרא דנוקבא מסכני, כמה דאינון בשתופא חדא, וחס דא על דא, ויהיב דא לדא, וגמיל ליה טיבו, הכי אצטריך בר נש לתתא למהוי עתירא ומסכנא בחבורא חדא, ולמיהב דא לדא, ולגמלאה טובא דא לדא. וירדו בדגת הים וגו’, רזא דנן חמינן בספרא דשלמה מלכא, דכל מאן דחס על מסכני ברעותא דלבא, לא משתני דיוקניה לעלם מדיוקנא דאדם הראשון, וכיון דדיוקנא דאדם אתרשים ביה, שליט על כל בריין דעלמא בההוא דיוקנא, הה”ד (בראשית ט ב) ומוראכם וחתכם יהיה על כל חית הארץ וגו’, כלהו זעין ודחלין מההוא דיוקנא דאתרשים ביה, בגין דדא הוא פקודא מעליא לאסתלקא בר נש בדיוקניה דאדם על כל שאר פקודין, מנא לן מנבוכדנצר, אע”ג דחלם ההוא חלמא, כל זמנא דהוה מיחן למסכני לא שרא עליה חלמיה, כיון דאטיל עינא בישא דלא למיחן למסכני, מה כתיב (דניאל ד) עוד מלתא בפום מלכא וגו’, מיד אשתני דיוקניה ואטריד מן בני נשא, ובגין כך נעשה אדם, כתיב הכא עשיה, וכתיב התם (רות ב יט) שם האיש אשר עשיתי עמו היום בועז:

The obligation to be gracious and giving to the needy, as it says – ‘Let us make man.’… for G-d made society such that we are able to benefit each other, to fill each other’s needs… So I have seen in the book of King Shlomo, that one who graciously takes care of the needs of others will forever look like Adam himself… Note – here it says ‘Let us make man’, while there – regarding Ruth having her needs taken care of by Boaz – it similarly says, ‘The name of the man who I have made with…’

נעשה אדם – שם האיש אשר עשיתי עמו. In our goodness and graciousness, we complete the picture of what man is supposed to really look like. We make ourselves.

There is one more piece to building that image of G-d.

When Noach emerged from the ark, G-d gave mankind the prohibition of murder, and said: ואך את דמכם לנפשותיכם אדרוש. “I will concern myself with your lifeblood, from anyone who spills a man’s blood I will seek retribution, I will address it.” And then, G-d adds, שופך דם האדם באדם דמו יישפך כי בצלם אלקים עשה את האדם, “One who spills the blood of man, through man his blood will be spilled, for man has been made in the image of G-d.”

It is puzzling, however, that specifically at this stage, after the failure of man that brought about the near destruction of the world, G-d should assert man’s divine image in punishing a murderer.

Perhaps the verse is saying something else. Perhaps instead of understanding the “image of G-d” as a description of the victim and, therefore, of the gravity of the crime, instead it is a description of the onlooker, of the witness, of the judge. Yes, G-d says, I concern myself with anyone hurt, harmed or killed. I care, I always know about it, and I will not let it go. But where you know about it, שופך דם האדם באדם, as Rashi explains, where there are witnesses and judges, then it is they, it is we who must respond, because we are created in G-d’s image. And it is we who are expected to do G-d’s work.

Yes, part of being in G-d’s image is being a magnificent person, reflecting G-d’s goodness and beauty. But another part is doing His work – justice for the downtrodden and kindness for the poor.

ואהבת את ד’ אלקיך ושמרת משמרתו (דברים יא א). “You shall love Hashem your G-d and you shall safeguard that which is precious to Him.” Ramban explained: It is our task to look out for those who G-d is most concerned for. He protects the stranger, is gracious to the poor and the needy, stands up for the orphan and the widow. That is our job. For we are to be like Him, doing His work, making ourselves in His image.

Many months ago, I had the privilege – together with others – to visit the Machlis home in Yerushalayim. The Machlis family is unique in their goodness and graciousness. They have over a hundred guests for every Shabbos meal; needy people, homeless people, people who are not well, and people who just need a place to be for a Shabbos meal. The force behind it was Henny Machlis, z”l, who passed away not long ago. I never had the privilege to meet her, but her legacy lives in her outstanding husband and her beautiful and exceptional children. What is so exquisite about them?

A story from the beautiful book written about her, as told by a guest:

I was at the Machlis house on Shabbos. An overflow of people was sitting outside. A really bedraggled, smelly, shaking fellow came in. Everyone got turned off. I thought Rav Machlis would put him outside. But their son Yehoshua, who must have been 23 at the time, sat him down and brought him soup. And because the man’s hands were shaking, Yehoshua fed him, spoonful by spoonful. I thought. Who are you that you care so deeply about this man that no one else cares about? Ah, you’re a Machlis!

This summer, the family married off a daughter. Yes, of course if you have a hundred people for a Shabbos meal, you will have a thousand for a wedding. And yes, if your guests for Shabbos include literally every kind of person with every imaginable need, then your wedding will as well. But there was more to it than numbers. Miriam Adany, a friend of ours whose life is dedicated to kindness and goodness, attended the wedding and wrote me the following note:

 “מי שלא ראה את החתונה הלילה לא ראה חתונה מימיו”

One who has not experienced tonight’s wedding, has never seen a truly joyous wedding.

This was not just another wedding. This was not just a wedding of an orphaned bride. This was something else entirely. The extent to which each of the bride’s siblings brought joy to her before she went to the Chuppah – I have never seen anything like it in anywhere in the world.

But beyond that. The guests at the wedding included every kind of person. Every male or female beggar at the Kosel; every kind of guest; young women and old, each with their own challenge. Young women who came to the wedding in jeans, with piercings all over their faces. And every one of them was greeted with such profound respect. To each one they said, “Ah! We were waiting for you! Thank you for coming! We are so glad that you came … it really means so much to me that you are here.”

When I first heard them say this, I thought that it must be so nice for the guest to hear such warm words of welcome. But as I continued to hear it and to see it, to see how they greeted each and every one of these “special guests” in this gracious and welcoming manner, I could not handle it. I felt so small compared to these children.

They danced with each and every one of these guests, all of these poor and stricken people. I was looking for the clusters of friends of the Kallah, of the circle of cousins – but they were not to be found. Everyone was family.

And what moved me the most was how at the end of the wedding, before the Sheva Brachos, Rabbi Machlis asked everyone to come together and to pray for all the single men and women, that each of them should find their happiness, should be able to find their partner in life.

That is the picture. That is the image of G-d. The image of goodness, personified. Humility, love, caring.

As we sound the Shofar, we simulate that moment when G-d infused each of us with His essence that would become our essence, the divine soul that He placed within each of us. And with that same sound of the Shofar, we recall Sinai, when He inspired us with His word. Let us hear the call of שפרו מעשיכם, the call of making ourselves better, the call of נעשה אדם, “Let US make man”, of finishing the job, of making that image more perfect, of adding the glow to the cheeks and color to the eyes.

May we merit to be in that image, a good and gracious image of a person that we can truly be proud of, that He will truly be proud of, ישראל אשר בך אתפאר, the Jewish people in whom I take great pride.

Kein yehi ratzon….