Priority Check

God created the world, and He created the Torah.    An ancient Jewish philosophic question asks which came first.  Although Creation chronologically preceded Mt. Sinai, it is possible that God did not first create a world and then only afterwards draft plans for a custom-designed Torah that would fit in with the realities of that world.  He may have, rather, first laid out intricate plans for what the Torah would include, and only then set out to design a world that could accommodate those plans.  It sounds funny, but does the Torah say to don Tefillin because humans have heads and arms, or is one of the reasons we have heads and arms so that the Torah’s commandment of Tefillin will have a context in which it will make sense?

A minimal amount of thought reveals that there is no simple answer to this question.  Whereas the fact that Adam did not receive the Torah when history began at Creation implies that the Torah did not pre-date the universe, logic points to the contrary conclusion:  Video game designers don’t design their imaginary world and then decide what the object of the game will be.  A Talmudic explanation of a verse addressed to Noah leads to the same conclusion.

 “Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Come to the Ark, you and all your household…Of every clean animal, take unto you seven pairs,…and of the animal that is not clean, two.’”  (Bereishit, 7) The Talmud takes the terms clean and unclean to be referring to the laws of Kashruth, so it asks: Were there clean and unclean animals in Noah’s time, before Mt. Sinai?  How did Noah know how many of any animal to bring?  Since the Torah was not yet published, he would not have any place to look up how to identify a kosher animal.  Rabbi Abuhu explained:  The animals all miraculously came on their own, so Noah didn’t have to be able to identify them. [Bavli, Zevachim 116a]  Can terminology and a classification scheme be based on a book that does not yet exist in any way? Evidently, the Kosher Manual did already exist at the dawn of world history, well before Mt. Sinai.

 The question of the chronological position of the creation of the Torah has a practical significance and lesson as well.  What role do Torah, spiritual pursuits, and self-growth play in our lives?  Is our life fully planned down to every last detail, with spirituality sprinkled on as an afterthought?  Or do we value and prioritize the time that we set aside for developing and exercising those strengths and capacities that make us better people and human beings?  Do we try to fit holidays and time for reflection and study into our fully-scheduled and busy lives; or do we look forward to those times as focal points of our lives, and then structure everything else around them?  The more our own priorities mirror the priorities evident in Creation, the better citizens of that Creation we will eventually be.

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