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Why did God create mankind in the first place? Midrash Rabbah Parshat Beresishis

Although it’s quite presumptuous to attempt to answer this question, the Midrash seems to do just that.

רַבִּי בֶּרֶכְיָה בְּשֵׁם רַב בֵּיבַי  Rabbi Berechia in the name of Rav Beivi offers a parable to explain God’s simple and singular expectation of mankind. However, without a proper warning label, the parable might throw you off track. 

Focus on the message and not the packaging

Just like this Midrash can be misconstrued, there are many verses in the Torah that can be taken the wrong way. One of the best examples is a verse on the very subject we are discussing: 

וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם הֹ’ כִּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ׃ 

And God regretted having made humankind on earth. And it saddened Him.” (Genesis 6:6) 

How can an all-knowing God “regret” something? The answer to this conundrum is the subject of my next D’var Torah. Needless to say, such verses beg to be interpreted (דרשני). There is one famous example in history when a concerted effort was made to conceal these theological pitfalls. The Talmud describes it as follows:

“King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers …God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did.” (Tractate Megillah 9A).

Miraculously, these Sages intentionally altered the literal translation the same way in order to remove certain theological issues.

God’s expectation of mankind: 

Enough warnings, here is the parable:

A government minister* magnanimously built a palace for people who were mute. They were so grateful that they praised the official in the only way they could. They made motions with their hands.*  The minister reasoned that if he filled the palace with those who could speak, they would surely praise him even more. However, as soon as people who could speak occupied the palace they rebelled against him and claimed that the palace was really theirs. The minister realized that he had to return the palace to the original inhabitants.

The Midrash often lets the reader figure out the parable but in this case the Midrash provides the meaning.

God initially filled the world with water.  The water praised God as it says in Tehillim (Psalms):

מִקֹּלוֹת מַיִם רַבִּים “The sounds (praises) of the mighty waters” (83:4) 

God thought that if He populated the world with people surely they would praise Him even more. Instead mankind rebelled against God and acted as if the world was theirs. God therefore allowed the original inhabitants – the water – to once again fill the earth.

As I warned you, there is something disturbing about this parable. Taken on a literal level, it seems as if God somehow needs praise. So here you have to go deeper and decipher what is the real message here. God created this magnificent world we live in. All these complex ecosystems were designed for the benefit of mankind to thrive and build on. It all comes down to this – at the very least, God expects gratitude to the one who created the world. At the time of the flood they were much closer to creation and had even fewer excuses for their lack of gratitude.

The power of gratitude

It’s fascinating to imagine where this fundamental idea of gratitude could have taken mankind prior to the flood. Gratitude to God would naturally lead to gratitude towards our elders, parents, teachers, scholars and ethical laws that promote harmony among people. Instead, their God awareness was replaced with idolatry. They decided that the world belonged to them to rule with brute force and corrupt political power. (See our previous discussion of “Bnei Elokim.”)

The great 13th century commentator, Ramban, (Nachmonides) comes to a very similar conclusion when he deals with this question at the end of Parshat Bo.

שבכל שעה אדם מודה בהן לאלקיו וכוונת כל המצות שנאמין באלקינו ונודה אליו שהוא בראנו, והיא כוונת היצירה 

Mankind should constantly show gratitude to God and the purpose of all the Mitzvot is that we believe in our God and show gratitude that God created us. And this was the purpose of creation.” (Ramban -Shemot13:10)

Spreading the idea that God created the world was a major objective for Abraham. He would invite guests for a meal. When they thanked him, he responded: 

וְכִי מִשֶּׁלִּי אֲכַלְתֶּם מִשֶּׁל אֱלֹקי עוֹלָם אֲכַלְתֶּם הוֹדוּ וְשַׁבְּחוּ וּבָרְכוּ לְמִי שֶׁאָמַר וְהָיָה הָעוֹלָם

But did you eat from what is mine? Rather, you ate from the food of the God of the world. Therefore, you should thank and praise and bless the One Who spoke and the world was created.” (Talmud Sotah 10B quoted by Rashi Bereishis 21:33)

In our times, the big bang theory absolves us of gratitude. Once science has removed God from the equation, gratitude and all its wonderful ramifications are, sadly, no longer relevant. 

Why did the punishment come via water

From the simple meaning of the Midrash, water had instinctually and consistently praised God even if it couldn’t verbalize that praise. The parable we cited above appears earlier in the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 54) when discussing the third day of creation:  

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹקים יִקָּו֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם מִתַּ֤חַת הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ אֶל־מָק֣וֹם אֶחָ֔ד. 

“God said, ‘Let the water below the sky be gathered into one place…’” (Genesis 1:9)

There, the commentators (Eitz Yosef and Maharzu) point out the the word gathered יִקָּו֨וּ is related to the word תקוה – hope. It is the nature of water to spread out and “seek its own level”. However, it was the will of God that the waters pull back – allowing the dry land to emerge. The waters went against their own nature and complied with the will of God. Always hoping (תקוה) that they could once again break free of their boundaries and constraints. Mankind refused to constrain their desires – especially those that inflicted great harm on the weak and vulnerable. Perhaps God simultaneously rewarded the waters – who could constrain themselves – and punished mankind – who could not. 

After all, the waters maintained an attitude of gratitude – which was the whole point of creation.

*The same parable is found in the collection of Midrash – Yalkut Shimoni – but it is a king not a government official and those who were mute expressed their gratitude with their hats.

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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