In the mid 1960’s, legendary president of Pan Am Juan Trippe met with executives of the Boeing company to begin design of a new airliner. This would be an airplane that could transport almost 500 passengers more than 5,000 miles. Thus the Boeing 747 was conceived.
In order to build the largest commercial airliner ever conceived, thousands of engineers had to design millions of parts. Boeing built that largest building in the world to house the 747 production line. New technologies in jet and wing design had to be developed to lift an aircraft that would weigh nearly 750,000 lbs. when fully loaded.
To make such a revolutionary aircraft as safe as possible, the designers employed a new system called Fault-Tree Analysis. If something went wrong or a part or system failed, they would look at all the different ways that part or system was related to other parts and systems in the rest of the airplane.
I am absolutely amazed by the complexity of a machine like a 747. The airplane has six million different parts that all come together to create one magnificent flying machine.
In our Torah portion this week, we meet the world’s first human beings. The Torah teaches us that God sought to create humanity in God’s own image. But this is a confounding paradox: What does it mean to be created in the image of God who has no image?
We think of God as the Author of Creation, the One who intimately knows every drop of water, every blade of grass, every tree in the forest, every reed in every swamp, every speck of algae. God is the One who knows every bird and every insect, every fish and every animal. God is the One who knows each and every one of the more than seven billion people who comprise the human family.
And the rabbis teach that in the beginning, Adam too, was aware of it all. As legendary professor Daniel Matt writes, “The first human being had no clear-cut sense of a separate self. His consciousness was unbounded; he was one with the cosmos.”
Adam was created to share in God’s sensitivity and awareness. He understood what made each individual part of the glorious creation special and holy. Thus he was given the awesome task of naming each and every thing.
“And the LORD God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that would be its name.” (Genesis 2:19)
But when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, something drastically changed. They each became aware of their own uniqueness and conscious of their individual selves. The fruit of the tree did not lead to an expansion of their awareness – instead it led to a contraction of their consciousness, and a growing obsession on their individual selves.
This is why in the next story Cain has such a difficult time. When Cain brings his offering, but instead God prefers his brother Abel, Cain is crestfallen. His feelings are hurt, his ego is wounded. What about ME? What about MY offering? What about MY feelings?
No longer does he care about the larger mosaic of creation, no longer is he aware of the fullness of the cosmos – his focus has turned only on himself. That’s why when God asks: “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain responds to the Holy One: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Life demands that we be self-aware. Only as individuals can we know our own experience. We need to learn to take care of ourselves and to stand on our own two feet.
But we need to stop being so obsessively consumed with our individual selves, and learn to cultivate a broader awareness of how we complement the universe.
Our world is like a 747 – each of us is one vital part of an interdependent and interconnected whole. God needs us to become ever more aware of how we individually contribute to that grander design, so that together we can all work in tandem to take wing to the heavens.
Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”