Yoni Mozeson
Yoni Mozeson

Moral lessons from mother Earth

The Midrash introduces us to the last entity on Earth that you would expect to be confused and befuddled by the workings of God. That is, the Earth itself.

How do we know what the Earth was feeling and thinking? It’s written explicitly in the second verse of the Torah, but not the way you learned it in 4th grade. 

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ “And the Earth was void and empty….” (Bereishis 1:2).

The Midrash takes the creative license to read it completely differently  without deviating from the simple meaning of the Hebrew words:“And (the living, thinking entity known as) the Earth was bewildered and confused” (Bereishis Rabbah 2:2)

What was bothering the Earth?

The upper realms, the heavens, and the lower realm, the Earth, were created at the same time. They should have been equal. However, they are far from equal. 

The Midrash brings 3 opinions about the Earth’s confusion. Rabbi Abbahu said that the Earth could not understand why those on Earth (Mankind and the animal world) had to toil for sustenance while those in the upper realm (angels) needed no physical sustenance. Rabbi Yehudah said the Earth couldn’t understand why those in the lower realm were mortal while those in the upper realms, the angels, are immortal. Lastly, Rabbi Tanchuma was of the opinion that the Earth was befuddled because it knew that it would inevitably be cursed because of the actions of Mankind.

This is related to what the Midrash says elsewhere: 

תָּנֵי בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי נָתָן, שְׁלשָׁה נִכְנְסוּ לְדִין וְאַרְבָּעָה יָצְאוּ מְחֻיָּבִין, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: אָדָם וְחַוָּה וְנָחָשׁ נִכְנְסוּ לְדִין, וְנִתְקַלְּלָה הָאָרֶץ עִמָּהֶן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית ג, יז): אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ

It was taught in the name of Rabbi Natan: Three were judged and four were punished. Adam, Chava and the snake were judged.  Yet when it came time to mete out the punishments, the Earth was cursed as well as it says “The Earth will be cursed because of you” . (Bereishis 3:17 : Midrash Rabbah 5:9)

What was the nature of the Earth’s rebellion?

One opinion in the Midrash is that God wanted the bark of trees to taste like the fruit, but it did not turn out that way. Perhaps the trees rebelled for self preservation, thinking that if the bark was edible all trees would get eaten up. The Earth lacked faith that God would protect them. Another opinion is just the opposite, the Earth went out of its way to do more than God asked for. Even non-fruit-bearing trees gave forth fruit. So why was it punished? Because the Earth sustained the rebellious Adam and Chava. 

Regardless of whether the Earth disregarded God’s orders outright or thought that it had the right to do more than God desired – the Earth rebelled. A harbinger of many rebellions to come. Perhaps Mankind got its rebellious nature from the Earth, who rebelled before Adam and Chava were even created. After all, Mankind was most certainly fashioned from the Earth. 

 וַיִּ֩יצֶר֩ הֹ’ אֱלֹק֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃ “And God formed man from the dust of the Earth. And he blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Bereishis 2:7)

The Earth’s confusion stemmed from a lack of self-awareness

It seems that the Earth did not understand that since it was endowed with free will, the rules under which the Earth is governed cannot be the same as the upper realm. The Earth rebelled against God. Angels do not have free will and do not rebel. They simply carry out God’s will. So there is no reason for angels to struggle for sustenance, to die, and certainly not to be punished.

What can Mankind learn from the confusion of the Earth? After all, we at times also live in a state of תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ “bewilderment and confusion.” We feel like there is no rhyme or reason for what happens in our life. However, the fact that we have free will means that we are also governed differently than angels.  The events of our life are a way for God to send us messages and opportunities to learn and grow. Everything happens for a reason. 

Although we were formed from the Earth, we possess something that the Earth does not. We have within us a Neshama that gives us a spiritual perspective on the events in our life. Hopefully this can provide us with more clarity and enable us to live a more exalted life.

* The ‘m’ in mother Earth was purposely lower case in order not to assign any divinity to the Earth as is found in certain belief systems

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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