וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְעַט מֵאֱלקִים, וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ
“You have made him (man) slightly less than God himself, and you have crowned him with glory and majesty” (Psalms 8:6)
Rebbe Nachman has a radically novel understanding of this verse.
“It’s known that anything that man is lacking whether physically or spiritually is a lack in the Divine Presence…[The problem is that] when man realizes that the lacking is above and below, he’ll feel great pain and be brought to sadness [and] this will prevent him from serving Hashem with joy. So [the solution is], he must say to himself ‘Who am I that the King should tell me about His lacking? Is there any greater honor than this [that the king should confide His lacking in someone as small as me]?’ From this reframe, he will come to great joy, and be revitalized to serve Hashem”. (Torah 89)
So the Rebbe is saying that the lacking וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ is מֵאֱלקִים, from Hashem. But the fact that He tells us about His lacking, gives us great honor וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר, and that honor makes us crown Him תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ.
Most people know that we’re supposed to emulate Hashem, as it says וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו, “we should walk in His ways” (Devarim 28:9). What’s much lesser known is that Hashem has a desire to be like us too. It says, וְהִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בְּתוֹכְכֶם, וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים , Hashem says: “I will walk amongst you and I will be your God” (Vayikra 26:12). Rashi says there, “I will stroll with You in the garden of Eden and you won’t tremble before Me. Maybe you’ll say, you won’t at all be in awe of Me? That’s why it says וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים, I will [still] be your God. Meaning, it needed to say “I will be your God”, or you might have actually thought that we would be so similar, that we’d be equal to Hashem.
What does all this mean? What does it mean that Hashem can lack? And what does it mean that Hashem has a desire to be like man?
So first of all, Hashem, the Creator of the Universe, lacks absolutely nothing. He is totally free and endless. That aspect of Hashem is beyond our grasp; no words can describe Him. But Hashem (the infinite) interfaces with this world (which is finite). That’s what we call the Shechina, the Divine Presence. He dresses Himself up in the presence of the Shechina so we can interact with Him.
One more gemara. (Chagiga 16a)
The Mishna says that one may not inquire what was before creation. The Talmud there gives an analogy of a king who built his palace on top of a garbage heap and the king doesn’t want people to discuss what was there before the palace.
What does it mean that before creation was like a heap of garbage?
Hashem is fully invested in this world and ultimately in Human life (see Torah 52). When we ask the question, “what does it mean that You existed before creation? What were You doing before us? What were You before You were relating to us”? He shuts down the question by saying, “all that is like garbage to Me, because you must know that I’m totally devoted to you and this world”. So much so that He, who has no lack, allows His presence to lack, so that we are not alienated and alone in our lacking. The verse before וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְעַט מֵאֱלקִים says מָה אֱנוֹשׁ כִּי תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ, the angels asked God, “Why create a finite feeble man”? There is a certain feeling of inadequacy as a created being that is totally dependent. Hashem, in his unimaginable loving-kindness, allows Himself to also lack to feel what we feel. He’s absolutely devoted to us, He empathizes with our struggle and He wears our pain – literally. He didn’t create us with a chance of reaching greatness but let us hang out to dry when we mess up. He created us and also assumed a similar state of alienation and feebleness, so that He is literally with us.
The Corona Situation
I’ve recently heard respected speakers saying how Hashem is punishing us for this and for that. Everyone’s all of a sudden a prophet. And more people are sadly saying how Hashem is angry at us and He kicked us out of the shuls and study halls, because He doesn’t want our service. This response is a product of a superficial (and Christian adopted) understanding of Hashem and our relationship with Him. When our children misbehave, we might punish them, because we are limited in what we can do. Hashem isn’t limited and He doesn’t punish us. It’s like He dressed Himself up into our shadow. When we ignore Him, we create our own problems that He is with us in. In His perfect brilliance, He always has an exit strategy for us. In a milli-second, at every moment we are just a half a breath away from turning right back to Him. But even in our filth, He allows His Divine presence to experience it too.
We don’t understand what’s happening and we don’t know what’s going to happen. But one thing is crystal clear: No matter what happens to us and no matter what we do, we are not alone. Period.
~ Inspired by and adapted from Reb Leibish Hundert