Monday, June 29, 2015

Jewish Thought: Man's Tzurah

Rav Aryeh Leibowitz

Last week we spoke about chomer and tzurah (click here).  Let us now explore these concepts as they relate to man.  

Tzurah is manifest on multiple levels in relation to man.  On the most basic level, all of humanity has a basic tzurah that gives mankind its own unique appearance and distinguishes it – on a physical level – from all other creations, especially the animals.  In addition to this, every individual human being contains its own unique tzurah that accounts for its unique appearance amongst humans.  No two people are alike because each contains a unique tzurah that gives form to their chomer and sustains their continued existence. 

But after the union of chomer and tzurah in producing the physical makeup of man, the resulting human being then becomes chomer to a more elevated tzurah that grants man his meta-physical properties.  It is what makes him who he is.  It accounts for his unique capabilities and powers his existence.  Most significantly, it is what gives man his purpose.
Accordingly, the Rambam writes (Moreh Nevuchim 1:1) that man’s tzurah is the “truth of his identity” and is what makes him a man.  According to the Rambam, Man’s truest tzurah is not that which dictates his physical appearance, but rather his elevated intellectual abilities, which separate him from the rest of creation.

The extra level of intellect that is found in man is his tzurah, when he is complete in intelligence… [Man’s truest tzurah] is not his physical apparent form, that is, the mouth, nose, jaw, and other physical characteristics.  These properties are called toar.   Similarly, [man’s true tzurah] is not the life forces that are found by other living creatures, through which they eat, drink, procreate, feel, and engage in [lower-level] thought.  Rather it is man’s intellect.  This is his true tzurah.  And it is this tzurah that the verse refers to when it says [that man was created] “In our image.”  (Rambam, Yesodei ha-Torah, Chapter 4)

The careful reader notes that the Rambam here alludes to the fact that man’s tzurah is not granted to him immediately.  Rambam stated, “The extra level of intellect that is found in man is his tzurah, when he is complete in intelligence…”  What does Rambam mean by this phrase?  Rambam is noting that man’s true tzurah is not granted to him immediately.  Man begins with a “lower” tzurah.  Yet, man also receives a more elevated tzurah, but only as potential.  It is in man’s hands to actualize that potential, and transcend the base level tzurah and assume his humanity. 

To review: We explained above that the original matter of creation went through a multi-layered process of receiving tzurah.  A first layer of tzurah acted upon the original matter to yield more elevated elements.  Then, these elements – although themselves a combination of chomer and tzurah – functioned together as chomer for a more elevated tzurah.  This process continued and produced the creations of the world.  In a similar vein, a human being first receives a tzurah that produces a man who is an extremely sophisticated animal.    Yet, there is an additional form of tzurah that is granted to man in potential.  If he dedicates himself to achieving his higher tzurah, then he becomes man, as he ought to be – the most elevated being in creation.


At birth, man is not yet a man.  He has the potential to be a man – the most elevated being in creation.  But he must work to acquire his elevated tzurah, and become the man he ought to be.  In this regard the Rambam refers to man as containing “potential intellect (שכל בכח).”  As he uses and develops his intellect, he slowly transforms his “potential intellect” into “actualized intellect (שכל בפועל).”   

It is obvious that the intellect of someone who knows an area of elevated knowledge is not comparable to one who is unknowing of that knowledge, for one is called [a being with] “actualized intellect,” and the other “potential intellect.” (Rambam, Introduction to the Mishna)[1]

But if man rejects the pursuit of wisdom and fails to acquire his more elevated tzurah, he remains as an animal. 

One who does not reach this true tzurah, which we have described above, is not a human.  Rather he is an animal that simply appears like a man.  (Moreh Nevuchim 1:7)
Indeed, such a person who squanders his potential to become a human is negating his own existence

The intellect is the tzurah for man’s chomer.  If man fails to acquire this tzurah, it is as if his [chomer], which was specifically created to acquire tzurah, is negated – a worthless creation.   (Rambam, Shemoneh Perakim, Chapter 1)

From a certain perspective, we can say that man is charged in life to create himself as a human.  Born with a natural, instinctual, identification with his lower, animalistic, essence, man is challenged to create himself as man.  By developing his intellect, engaging his neshama, and achieving his higher tzurah, man is able to transcend from his natural self and emerge as his more elevated self.  This elevated self is the true him.  But only if he creates himself.
In the writings of the Chasidic masters we find it suggested that the statement of Hashem in Creation, “Let us make man…,” is to be understood as a commandment to man to join Hashem in the creation process.[2]  Hashem does not make man, rather Hashem begins the process and gives man the potential that he needs.  But ultimately, it is man’s own responsibility to make himself into a man.

[1] The more one uses his intellect to discover the truths of reality and gain wisdom, the more he acquired his elevated tzurah.  So the Rambam writes, “The ultimate completion is to be a fully “actualized” thinker – that is, a [being characterized by] an “actualized intellect.” (Moreh Nevuchim III, 27)

[2] Sefas Emes, Shemos, Parshas Zachor [4654], s.v. והנה

No comments:

Post a Comment