Torah Knowledge For Non-Jews Vol. 1
18. Introduction to Developing a Torah Personality
DEVELOPING A TORAH PERSONALITY
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Based on addresses by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
Adapted by Rav Reuven Ziegler
To Cultivate and to Guard: The Universal Duties of Mankind
When seeking to shape our personalities according to Torah values, we must relate to at least three levels of expectation and responsibility. These can be regarded as concentric circles, moving from the broader to the more specific:
1) the universal demands placed upon one simply as a human being;
2) the demands of a Jew;
3) the responsibilities of a ben-Torah, one who makes Torah study a central part of his life and embodies its values.
I wish to deal now with the first level. What are the basic, cardinal, universal values for which every person should strive?
Let us open a Chumash (Pentateuch) to the chapter describing the creation of man and see what task was assigned to him.
The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to guard it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” (Bereishit 2:15-17)
In the seventh chapter of Sanhedrin, the Gemara derives the seven universal Noachide Laws from the last two of these verses. However, I would like to address the first of these verses: God placed man (Adam) in the garden “le-ovdah u-leshomrah,” to work or cultivate the garden and to guard it. Here we have two distinct tasks. One, “le-shomrah,” is largely conservative, aimed at preserving nature. It means to guard the world, to watch it—and watching is essentially a static occupation, seeing to it that things do not change, that they remain as they are. This is what Adam was expected to do, and part of our task in the world is indeed to guard that which we have been given: our natural environment, our social setting, our religious heritage.
In a sense, we are expected also to be a shomer (guard) of the Torah itself. What do Anshei Kenesset Ha-gedola, the sages of the Great Assembly, mean when they instruct us to “Make a fence around the Torah” (Avot 1:1)? They mean to guard it, to watch it. Similarly, Chazal speak of “Asu mishmeret le-mishmarti, Set a guard around My guard” (Mo’ed Katan 5a, Yevamot 21a). We often use the term shomer mitzva to describe someone. This doesn’t just mean that he does what the Shulchan Arukh says, but also that he guards it; he sees to it that the mitzva as an entity, as a reality, remains pure; he envisions himself as having a sense of responsibility towards it. All this is included in the term “le-shomrah” (to guard it).
At the same time, there is the task of “le-ovdah” (to cultivate it), which is essentially creative: to develop, to work, to innovate. This applied even in the Garden of Eden, which, according to some of the midrashim, was already a perfect environment.
Here we have, then, two foci of our primary obligation: a) to guard, to have a sense of responsibility in relation to that which we have been given; and b) to work and to develop. Although Adam was commanded specifically to till and guard the Garden of Eden, I think that we would not be stretching things too far if we were to understand that this mandate applies far beyond that particular little corner of the Garden where Adam and Eve were placed. What we have here is a definition of how man is to be perceived in general: as a shomer and as an oved.