What Is the Definition of Goodness?

Vayivra Elokim es ha’adam b’tzalmo b’tzelem Elokim bara oso zachar un’keivah bara osam (1:27)

Parashas Bereishis begins by detailing how the universe came into existence. On each day of Creation, after relating what Hashem made on that day, the Torah records that He saw what he had created and “ki tov” — it was good. Paradoxically, although man is considered the ultimate purpose of the entire Creation, the Torah does not say that Hashem saw that Adam was ki tov.

Although the Torah uses this expression regarding the creation of the animals earlier on the sixth day of Creation, and it does describe the overall creation as very good after the formation of Adam, nevertheless there is no explicit use of the phrase ki tov regarding the creation of man.

Harav Meir Wahrsager of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim cites Sefer HaIkkarim (3:2) by Harav Yosef Albo, who explains that the expression “tov” is used to describe something that has fulfilled its potential and reached its shleimus (perfection). For this reason, Rashi writes (1:7) that the Torah does not use the expression ki tov in conjunction with the second day of Creation, as the formation of the waters that began on that day was not completed until the third day of Creation.

Sefer HaIkkarim explains that all creations other than man were formed having already maximized their potential, and therefore it is appropriate to describe them as ki tov. Man, on the other hand, is unique in being fashioned intentionally imperfect, and therefore it would be inappropriate to use the term ki tov in reference to his creation.

What was man lacking at the time of his creation? Rav Albo explains that although other animals grow larger and older, they fundamentally remain the same from the time of their birth until the time of their death. Man, on the other hand, was created with latent potential and unrealized greatness that must be developed. Unlike animals, we are expected to make significant and fundamental changes throughout our lifetimes.

Sefer HaIkkarim illustrates this distinction based on a verse in Koheles (3:19) in which Shlomo Hamelech discusses the apparent futility of life. He writes, “U’mosar ha’adam min habeheimah ayin ki hakol havel,” which means that humans and animals appear to follow the same life trajectory, being born, living and eventually dying, in which case there seems to be ayin — no advantage to being a person over an animal. However, Rav Albo suggests that the verse can also be read as saying that there is, in fact, a difference between them, namely ayin, which can be interpreted as referring to the dormant and undeveloped potential of man. In other words, the advantage of being a human is that in contrast to animals, we possess ayin, the ability to grow and improve.

Rav Wahrsager notes that many people convince themselves that because they were born with certain negative traits, such as a tendency to get angry or to speak lashon hara, they are justified in deciding that they will always remain that way. However, according to Sefer HaIkkarim, such people are in essence electing to live their lives as animals. The Maharal (Tiferes Yisroel 3) explains that the Hebrew word for animal — beheimah — can be read as a combination of two words: bah mah, what is already in him is what he is.

A person who considers himself a finished product, limited and constrained by the character traits and values that he acquired during his formative years, is denying his advantage over the animal kingdom by rejecting his ayin. Instead, we must change our self-images and view ourselves as incomplete people who are constantly striving to actualize our potentials in pursuit of true shleimus. In order to do so, we must internalize that the very definition of a human being is someone who is a work in progress. In contrast to a stagnant beheimah, we not only possess the ability to change, but that is what makes us uniquely human, and it is only through constant growth and improvement that we will merit ki tov.

Q: Why did Hashem banish Adam from Gan Eden?

A: Although most people assume that Adam’s exile from the Gan Eden was a punishment for eating from the forbidden fruit, the Ichud b’Chidud points out that the Torah actually gives a different reason. Hashem expressed a concern (3:22-23) that Adam may eat from the Tree of Life, which would enable him to live forever, so He removed Adam from the Garden to prevent this from happening.

Q: In Parashas Bereishis, there is a verse that contains five consecutive two-letter words in Hebrew, an unusual phenomenon that occurs only six times in Tanach. How many of them can you identify?

A: They are the following:

  • In Parashas Bereishis, we find (5:32), “(vayoled) Noach es Shem es Cham” — Noach (begot) Shem and Cham.
  • In Parashas Vayishlach, Rochel’s midwife tells her (35:17), “Ki gam zeh lach ben” — this one is also a son for you.
  • At the end of Parashas Beshalach (Shemos 17:16), Moshe says, “Ki yad al kes K-“— for the hand is on Hashem’s throne.
  • In Shmuel I (20:29), Yonason tells Shaul, “Al ken lo ba el (shulchan hamelech)” — therefore Dovid did not come (to the king’s table).
  • In Melachim I (3:26), one of the women arguing over the living baby says to the other, “Gam li gam lach lo (yehei)”— he shall not be mine or yours.
  • In Nechemia (2:2), King Artaxerxes says to Nechemia, “(Ein) zeh ki im ra lev” — this can only be evil in your heart.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.