Oct 17, 2007

“And Hashem G-d formed the man from the dust of the ground and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life and he became a living being” (Genesis Chapter 2 Verse 7)

As I walked through Majdanek and Auschwitz concentration camps earlier this year, I felt that however we attempt to grasp the ungraspable, we mustn’t consign the Holocaust to an inexplicable moment of “inhumanity”.
If the Holocaust can teach us anything, it begins with an unblinking gaze at the fact that it was a part of the history of what it means to be human, not an exception. That it can be human to choose to be lower than beasts.

Yet there were at least 6000 Polish non-Jews who saved Jewish lives, who risked their own lives simply because of their sense of right and good; humans who chose to be finer than angels.

The verse above reveals that this choice between angel and beast is part of our essential nature. The first human, known as “Adam”, is formed from the dust of the earth, from the lowest, the most purely material, insensitive and impersonal aspect of existence. The same “Adam” in the same verse is also formed from the Divine breath itself.

Our lives, thankfully distant from the stark choices of the Holocaust, are none the less continuously full of moral choice: between prioritising work over family, or family over work; wealth over kindness, or kindness over wealth; pleasure over fidelity, or fidelity over pleasure…

At the moment of the inception of mankind, the Torah shows that this vastness of moral opportunity lies at the core of what it means to be human; that we are poised between dust and the Divine.

First printed in the JC 18/9/07 

TAGS for this article: Ethics | Morals | Adam | Holocaust