Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Why man had to be formed from the dust”

In practice, man is an inferior creature, quite dependent on the rest of existence.

The grass can get along quite well without man, but man needs the grass to cultivate it and transform it into bread.

Man is human because he has a task in life to relate to the world, to raise it up and give it meaning and purpose.

Otherwise the universe is an endless repetition, a question without an answer, a movement without a goal.

When man makes bread out of the grass, the bread rises up through man and “prays and studies Torah.”

That is, it is lifted up out of the earth; its hidden sparks of holiness are released and it becomes a part of a higher level of reality.

This then is why man had to be formed from the dust, the most inferior of substances.

When we want to lift something heavy with a hoist or a pulley, we have to anchor our leverage firmly on the ground.

When we build a wall for a house, we make sure of solid foundations.

Similarly, the Divine soul of man had to be fastened to something firm and steady like the earth.

From this base the plantlike growth force in man could take root and the rest of his animal powers could issue.

For man is also the lever and the hoist of all of creation, the factor that can raise the essentially inert parts of the world.

Only with man’s interference can the rest of creation rise out of itself.

But man has to begin from where he himself issued, the dust of the earth, the most primordial and amorphous form of matter.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz