As we mentioned previously, the human being is a microcosm of the entire world (Midrash Tanchuma, Pikudei 2). As the Vilna Gaon explained, all the traits within creation are unified within the human being. Since the human being reflects the unity of the Divine creation, the human being has the unique ability to identify and empathize with all aspects of creation. The Creator therefore chose the human being to be the steward over the Divine estate, as it is written:
"The Compassionate and Just One took the human being and placed him in the Garden of Eden – l'avdah u'l'shamrah - to serve it and to protect it." (Genesis 2:15)
Humankind was given a twofold mission: They are to serve the "Garden" through engaging in actions which nurture and elevate life on earth; moreover, they are to protect the "Garden" by avoiding any actions which could harm or degrade life on earth. The human story is therefore a dramatic story of the relationship of humankind to this twofold mission.
Israel's story represents the human story; thus, we were given a twofold mission which is based on the mission given to humankind. According to an ancient teaching, the mission to "serve and protect" the Garden is a prototype for all the "mitzvos" – Divine mandates – which were given to the People of Israel through the Torah (Tikunei Zohar 55). The mandate to "serve" the Garden is a prototype of "mitzvos aseh" – the mitzvos which call upon us to engage in actions which nurture and elevate the world, including ourselves. And the mandate to "protect" the Garden is a prototype of "mitzvos lo sa'asay" - the mitzvos which prohibit actions which damage and degrade the world - including ourselves. The story of Israel is therefore a dramatic story of the relationship of our people to this twofold mission. With the help of the Compassionate One, we shall explore the deeper and universal significance of this story.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen