Rashi, commenting to Parashat Bereishit (1:11), cites the famous remark by the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 5:9) that the ground “sinned” on the third day of creation, by failing to produce the precise kind of trees that God had commanded. God pronounced that the ground should bring forth “eitz peri” (“fruit trees”), which the Midrash understands as referring to trees that were entirely flavorful – even their bark. The ground disobeyed God, the Midrash relates, and gave forth “eitz oseh peri” – trees that produced fruit, but were otherwise inedible. The Midrash explains that for this reason, when God placed a curse upon humankind in response to Adam and Chava’s sin, He also cursed the ground to punish it for its disobedience (“Arura ha-adama” – 3:17).
Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta, in his Oheiv Yisrael, quipped that the ground disobeyed God with sincere intentions – in order to help human beings for all time repent from their wrongdoing. The ground intentionally committed a sin so that the human being, which is created from the ground (“afar min ha-adama” – 2:7), will attribute his sins to the sinful ground from which he was made. This will prevent sinners from falling into despair and encourage them to repent and correct their conduct.
We can perhaps appreciate the message underlying this classic chassidic teaching by considering two other “mishaps” that occurred over the course of creation, as taught by various passages in the Midrash and cited by Rashi. First, God had initially created
an especially powerful light for the world, but then saw that there would be wicked individuals who would be unworthy of benefiting from this special light, and so He concealed it (Rashi to 1:4). On the fourth day of creation, God created the sun and moon equal in size, but was then compelled to diminish the moon’s size due to its complaints, and then create the stars to shine alongside the moon (Rashi to 1:16, based on Chulin 60b). On these three occasions, God’s ideal plan for the world did not materialize.
The idea being conveyed, perhaps, is that as wondrous as this world is, it was created imperfect. Already at the time of creation, the world was flawed. Even before Adam and Chava were driven from Gan Eden, the universe was less than ideal.
The Apter Rebbe encourages us by reminding us that we were created to live in an imperfect world, and so we cannot allow our own imperfections to cause us despair. Our job is to do the best we can under the flawed conditions with which we born and with which we live throughout our lives. Of course, the inherently imperfect state of the world does not absolve us from the obligation to constantly work and struggle to improve ourselves and the world. It does, however, require us to place our failings, as well as those of others, into perspective, to recognize that the “ground” from which we were made is flawed, that we were created as complex, imperfect beings and placed in a complex, imperfect world. This recognition should not stifle us, but to the contrary, should encourage and motivate us to continue working and striving despite our mistakes and failures, without ever feeling discouraged and without ever despairing.