January 2, 2022

Rosh Hashanah 11

Every Friday night, as part of the Kiddush, we recite the words of Bereishit 2:1-3 which begins with the phrase: וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם – ‘And the heaven, and the earth, and all theצְבָאָם were completed.’ Of course, we know that שָּׁמַיִם means ‘heaven’, and that אָרֶץ means ‘earth’, but what does the word צְבָאָם actually mean?
According to the Ramban (see his commentary to Bereishit 2:1 & Bemidbar 1:3), this word – whose root is צָבָא which is often simply translated as ‘army’ – is actually a broad term which describes various groups of things and people in a given setting. Consequently, in this instance the Ramban explains that it refers to those creations that reside in both heaven (i.e. the sun, moon, stars and angels) and on earth (plants, fish, animals & humans).
However, as Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein points out in his Torah Temimah commentary (on Bereishit 2:1), based on the rules of grammar the Torah should have used the word צִבְאוֹתֵיהֶם (which describes the respective populations of heaven and earth), and not צְבָאָם (which actually suggests that there is a singular population on heaven and earth). Given this, he suggests – on the basis of a fascinating teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi found in today’s daf (Rosh Hashanah 11a) which explains how each aspect of creation was made ‘לצביונן’ – that the reason why the Torah used the word צְבָאָם is because of its similarity with the Hebrew word צִבְיוֹנָם – which means ‘splendour’ and ‘beauty’. This would mean that rather than Bereishit 2:1 merely describing the contents of heaven and earth, it also describes the splendour and beauty of each of the creations in both heaven and earth. Understood this way, the point being made by Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi in our daf is that every aspect of creation, and every human being, has special and unique qualities deserving of admiration and celebration.
Interestingly, Rabbi Epstein finds further biblical evidence for his thesis from later on in the Torah, where the phrase בְּמַרְאֹת הַצֹּבְאֹת (Shemot 38:8) is used concerning the mirrors of the Jewish women that they donated to the Mishkan construction project and which were then used to make the copper washbasin. Here, too, it seems clear that the word צֹּבְאֹת refers to things of splendour and beauty – and in this case, the splendour and beauty that we wish to see when we look at ourselves in a mirror.
What we learn from here is that not only is our task to acknowledge creation, but also to see splendour and beauty in every aspect of creation, and in terms of ourselves, not only to acknowledge how we are each a creation of God, but also when we look into both a real – as well as metaphorical – mirror to see ourselves, we should see splendour and beauty in ourselves as well.
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