God the Creator and Human the FashionerByDr. Ronald A. Brauner
An outstanding characteristic of Jewish tradition is its relentless grappling with the realms of the "natural" and the "unnatural." Certainly throughout much of our classical literature, our struggle with this duality can be clearly seen and it is this very struggle which provides us with some remarkable insight into unique Jewish perspectives on life and reality.
Even in such early documentary sources as the Creation Stories of Genesis this portrayal is observable. The first chapter of Genesis reports that "God blessed them (male and female humankind) and God said to them: Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and all the living things that creep on earth" [v. 28] - making undeniably clear our ancient understanding that control and domination of the natural world are not only divine mandates, but that such control and domination are, in themselves, characteristics of divine behavior! The narrative of Genesis 2 (the "Adam and Eve" story) reports that "The Lord God took the Man (Adam) and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it - pointedly employing the verbs "to till" and "to tend" so as to reflect a further refinement of this dual conception of the human commission - to care ("tend") for the natural world and also to work ("till") it - to enjoy the bounty of nature and yet also to exploit its potentials. "Tending" is stewardship while "tilling" is manipulation - and both functions have divine mandate!
Judaism is the record of our long experience in managing this grand duality and it is in our recognition of the supremacy of God and the concomitant empowerment of man that we continue to define ourselves and our relationships. Consider if you will how many examples there are of our approach to the duality of stewardship and manipulation and how, most importantly, manipulation is laden with the most profound significance. Consider, if you will, that male circumcision is, in its very essence, the violation of the natural state of the human body and yet that circumcision, an unnatural (we might say, transnatural) phenomenon becomes, for the Jew, an ultimate declaration of our allegiance to divine sovereignty -
God further said to Abraham, "As for you, you and your offspring to come throughout the ages shall keep my covenant. Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised . . . and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you." (Genesis 17:9-11)
It is in the alteration of the natural that the sense of human worth can be so clearly articulated. We are forbidden to desecrate the body (Leviticus 19:27-28, for example) and, at the very same time, are bidden to sanctify it through modification.
We celebrate God's bounteous agricultural gifts at the harvest festival of Sukkot and yet, the sukkah itself, a primary symbol of the occasion, is valid for use only when the natural materials of which it is constructed are no longer attached to the trees and soil from which they come. What a magnificent paradox - we celebrate God's gifts of the natural world and, in that very celebration, use materials which have been irretrievably altered by the celebrants! The same, of course, is true of the palm branch (lulav), the citron (etrog), the myrtle (hadass) and the willow (aravah) - in every instance, if any of the symbolic accouterments of the festival are left still attached to their natural sources, they cannot be used to celebrate the festival - for true celebration is in the partnership of God the Creator and Human the Fashioner.


1998, Foundation for Jewish Studies, Inc.
Ronald A. Brauner has written numerous articles on Bible, religion, education, and Semitic studies; he has edited four books of essays dealing with all aspects of Jewish civilization through the centuries. His newest volume, BEING JEWISH IN A GENTILE WORLD: A SURVIVAL GUIDE has recently appeared and has enjoyed enthusiastic reviews. Dr. Brauner has directed the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in southern California and the Hebrew Institute of Pittsburgh. Currently, Dr. Brauner serves as President of the Foundation for Jewish Studies, Inc. and Professor of Judaic Studies at the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies. Dr. Brauner is a member of the faculty of The Wexner Heritage Foundation and a lecturer for the United Jewish Appeal and Israel Bonds. Dr. Brauner is listed in WHO'S WHO IN RELIGION. WEB SITE: WWW.TORAH.COM