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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Animal Rights, Bereishit Parshah, Environment, Free Choice

Bereshit: Human Centric

Submitted by on October 22, 2019 – 10:06 pmNo Comment | 1,468 views

For millennia it was believed that the world is human centric, but science has slowly chipped away at this assumption.

From the day the first astronomer focused his gaze on the distant stars, humans postulated that our planet sits at the center of the universe and serves as the focal point around which everything revolves. Along came Copernicus and later Galileo and debunked that notion. Today, the heliocentric model is the universally accepted model.

We accepted that the universe is not human centric, but we continued to believe that life is human centric. We believed that the world was created for us and we ought to control it. Along came Darwin and debunked that notion. He demonstrated that billions of years before homo sapiens came into existence, life began with basic bacteria forms that slowly evolved into more and more complex life forms. Today, science has accepted that we have evolved from earlier life forms and that evolution will one day replace us with a stronger, more efficient, and more complex form of life.

We came to accept that not only is the universe not human centric, but life is also not human centric. We exist in the present, others came before us and yet others will replace us. There is nothing central about us. But at least we believed that our conscious minds are at the center of our own human experience. The universe might not be human centric, but our own experience is human centric. Along came Freud and debunked that too. He demonstrated that the human experience is molded by subconscious forces that are formed by factors beyond our control.

Wit little choice, we accepted that too, but we continued to believe that we are at least in control of our own planet. Earth, at the very least, is human centric. Yet, today even that has been debunked. Environmentalists and animal rights activists have argued convincingly that earth’s resources do not belong to us and are not meant for us to use as we please. In fact, we are beholden to them. We are charged with the stewardship of the planet and are responsible for its survival and continued existence. The earth is not here to serve us, we are here to serve the earth. It turns out that even our own planet, the very space that we inhabit, is not human centric.

The Torah View
The Torah takes a very different view of life. Although science has embraced the heliocentric model, many passages in the Torah strongly imply a geocentric model.[1] And despite the arguments put forth by Freud, the Torah teaches that we have free will and are in control of our own experience. Rather than being at the mercy of mysterious forces, we exercise full control over our choices.

The Torah also rejects the theory of evolution. The Torah presents the creation model forthrightly and without apology. Neither does the Torah teach that we are at the mercy of earth’s resources. When G-d created Adam and Eve, he told them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth.”[2]

Unlike the Malthusian model that promoted population control, the Torah tells us to be fruitful and to multiply without regard for its effect on the planet. If necessary, the Torah gives us a license to fill the entire earth. If we require its resources, the Torah gives us license to subdue the earth and to rule over all its creatures. From fish to fowl, bird to beast, rivers to glaciers, everything that exists is designed to serve our needs. The Torah does believe in a human centric world.

To be sure, the Torah forbids wasteful and wanton destruction of the planet’s resources, but the Torah grants us license to use the planet’s resources freely so long as we need them.

Science has slowly chipped away at the human’s position in the world and has made the universe less and less human centric. The Torah has placed the human at the epicenter of existence and teaches that all of existence is human centric. Why the dichotomy between the scientific and the Torah model?

Rule and Descend
The Hebrew word that the Torah uses to grant Adam and Eve license to rule over the universe, is veyirdu. There are many alternatives words that the Torah could have employed, yet it chose this unusual word. Some of our sages explained that there is a double entendre in this word. Yirdu can mean to rule and it can mean to be subservient. The message is that this license can either place us at the apex of existence or it can lower us to the lowest rung of existence. It depends on how we perceive and use our license.[3]

If we see ourselves as lords of the universe, our opinion will lead to hubris and cause us to fall into subservience—to become the least appealing creature in all of existence. If we see ourselves as serving G-d and perceive our license to rule over the universe in the context of our mandate to teach and promote awareness of the Creator throughout the universe, we will never slide into hubris. Perceived correctly, this role can make us feel humbly privileged to be chosen for this awesome, transcendental and pivotal task.

Without the G-d consciousness, humanity has no justification to rule over the universe. Thus, science has correctly chipped away at the human centric perception of the world. Better to be humble and lowly than arrogant and in control. The Torah, however, teaches us to utilize our role to serve G-d. Thus, it is not hubris on our part to perceive the universe as human centric. On the contrary, this perception positions and empowers us to bring the entire world to a greater awareness of its Creator.

If we saw ourselves as lowly insignificant creatures, we would never have the temerity to believe that we could make a difference to the entire universe. We would not promote awareness of the Creator because we would not believe ourselves entitled to tell others how to think. We would never utilize the world’s resources to serve G-d because we would question our right to allocate the planet’s resources to causes that we believe are important. If we didn’t see the world as human centric, we would fail in the mandate given us by G-d at Sinai.

Thus, the Torah insists that the entire universe, our planet, and the human experience are all human centric. We are the purpose of Creation and we serve this purpose by teaching creation about its Creator. If the world revolves around us and we revolve around G-d, the entire universe can eventually also revolve around G-d. But it is up to us to embrace our central role with humility. This way we will be sure not to waste the planet’s resources and not to rise to hubris, but instead to help the world become aware of its Creator and to serve Him.[4]

[1] Ecclesiastic 1:4, Psalms 96:1, and others. With the Theory of Relativity, the entire question became moot because both are in motion in relation to each other.

[2] Genesis 1:28.

[3] See Rashi on Genesis 1:26.

[4] This essay is based on an insight that I heard from my dear friend Rabbi Eliyahu Eliad Skuri from Haifa, Israel.