“…each person has his hour and each thing has its place.” (Avot 4:7)
Chazal understood Hashem having created the world to mean that everything in existence has significance. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot states, “Do not be scornful of any person and do not be disdainful of any thing, for each person has his hour and each thing has its place.” Or, as the colloquial saying goes, “Every dog has its day.”
This idea is rooted in Kohelet, which explains the assertion that everything has its time by adding that “Hashem made everything beautiful in its proper time.”
There are two implications to this idea, both specified by the Mishnah.
The first implication concerns how we are meant to relate to other people. Tractate Avot speaks both about the problem of sinat habriyot (hating other people) and the importance of ahavat habriyot (loving other people). The Baal HaTanya explains that these mishnayot specifically use the term ‘briyot’ to describe people to emphasize the need to love even those who have nothing going for them beyond the fact that Hashem created them.
Avot further emphasizes the importance of ahavat habriyot by twice juxtaposing it to ahavat Hashem. The Maharal explains that one who truly loves Hashem loves everything He creates. This ahavat Hashem basis for loving others can be inferred from the addition of “I am Hashem” to the verse that commands us to love others like ourselves: “Love your fellow as yourself; I am Hashem.” In other words, Hashem explains that we should love others because He is the one who created them.
Further reinforcement of this point comes from the Gemara that tells a story about Rav Elazar b’Rebi Shimon. A person who Rav Elazar told was ‘ugly-looking’ responded to Rav Elazar by encouraging him to share this observation with the one who created him – Hashem. At that point, Reb Elazar b’Rebi Shimon realized his mistake and begged for forgiveness.
Rav Kook summarized this first implication by teaching that “the love that naturally resides in the souls of tzaddikim includes all creations. It excludes no thing or nation – not even Amalek!”
The Mishnah also mentions a second implication. We are meant to appreciate not only people, but every creation. The Medrash famously tells us that Hashem created everything for a purpose. He even uses frogs and other animals as his emissaries. Another Medrash describes how David HaMelech doubted the value of spiders and spider webs until he needed their help to hide him from Shaul.
The Rishonim extend this idea to include not only humans but animals and even natural phenomena. The Ramban, for example, proves the holiness of the physical relationship between man and woman from the fact that Hashem created it.
Rav Kook expanded this idea beautifully: “Anyone who thinks in a pure, G-dly way cannot hate or denigrate any creation or potential found in our world.” He explains further that hatred and denigration are rooted in our choice to focus on what is lacking instead of identifying and appreciating the pure potential G-d imbues within His creations.
In a second piece, Rav Kook applies the same concept to every thought of every human being. He explains that “all thoughts are logical and worthwhile. Even those that seem illogical are rooted principles of logic and value. All people are ‘treasure-houses’ of higher meaning whose thoughts need to be ‘filtered’ to expose their true deeper meaning. The greater we are as people, the more thoughts we succeed at identifying as valuable. When we do so, we elevate these thoughts and become elevated through them.”
Appreciating It All
The upshot of these mishnayot in Avot is that everything Hashem creates has value and holiness and needs to be appreciated. We often take our world for granted and see its contents as mundane and insignificant. Tractate Avot reminds us that they are all created by Hashem and should be appreciated as such. By doing so, we deepen our understanding and appreciation of the world, of ourselves, and of Hashem Himself.
Though all creations are significant, human beings, particularly in their thoughts and their mission, are of greater value and importance. We will see how Avot relates to and deepens our appreciation of this iy”H next week.