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Bereshit

"This is the narrative of the generations of man; on the day that God created man, in the likeness of God He created him.. Male and female He created them" Genesis 5:1-2

We all enjoy a challenge, as did the ancient rabbis. When asked to propose the most important verse in the Torah, we might suggest the first line of the Shema or the first of the Ten Commandments.

The great sage Rabbi Akiva advocated "Love your neighbour as yourself". His colleague, Ben Azzai, however, chose the verses from Genesis quoted above. Ben Azzai is telling us that the creation of man is the main principle of the Torah.

Our most sacred text is all about being human. We must learn to apply the teachings of the Torah to better understand and appreciate ourselves. What, though, does it mean to be a human from the perspective of the Torah?

Two aspects fused in the creation of man: a divine soul and physical body. The soul gives man the power to create worlds, to influence others, to remould matter and fashion something new. If creation would have stopped at the soul level, humanity simply would have comprised another group of angels.

Man is also prone to forget that he is not divine and so he was given a physical form, both male and female. In kabbalistic teachings, male refers to the potential to influence, while female refers to the ability to receive. No matter how great an individual becomes, each of us must remember that we have something to learn from others. "Who is wise?" ask the rabbis "He who learns from all people."

The creation narrative is thus an essential introduction to the rest of the Torah. We should recognise that man's dual nature allows for the greatest of achievements and the biggest falls. Understanding this should make us appreciate each other that little bit more.

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