Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Walk Article

CREATION & FABRICATION

Breishit-5774

Rabbi David Walk

 

            In surveying the hundreds of articles I've composed over the past fifteen years, I noticed a troubling reality.  There are certain Torah readings which inevitably get skipped.   This makes sense because I often write about a holiday or special calendar event in lieu of the weekly parsha.  Now, a few of those which get skipped over didn't overly bother me, because they were sections dealing with either the Temple service or the construction of the Mishkan, and I don't have all that much to contribute to the understanding of those phenomena.  However, I have rarely written about parshat Breishit and that's ridiculous, I could write forever and never cover all the issues raised in this amazing parsha.  So, this year I will resist the urge to discuss Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah and jump to Breishit, which will be read this Shabbat.

            First of all I must raise a particular difficulty in contemplating this complex reading.  Our Torah is basically an opus describing the behavior of humanity.  Actually, in our parsha we are presented with an alternative title for our Tanach or Bible, namely Zeh Sefer Toldot Adam (Genesis 5:1) or The Book Which Records the Undertakings of Mankind.  Actually this phrase could be translated as 'these are the generations of the offspring of humanity', but like many phrases in Breishit there's both a literal and figurative meaning.  So, even when we're discussing the mostly Godly activities, namely the process of Creation, we must search for the human element.  Rabbi Soloveitchik is going to help us in this effort.

            Before we get to the Rav's idea, there is a little ground work which must be laid down.  The crucial word in the description of our world's birth is bara, which we translate as created.  The traditional understanding of this term is to produce something from nothing.  This activity is, of course, impossible for us. We require previously existing raw materials to make anything, not so God.  The other generic term for God's activities during this period of Creation is assa, which we translate as make.  This word denotes putting already existing materials together in new ways.  We can do that.

            The word bara appears three times in the first chapter of Breishit which describes the Creation.  That means that there were only three instances in which God brought into existence stuff which had previously not existed.  The big three are:  In the beginning God bara heaven and earth (Breishit 1:1), and God bara the great fish and all living beasts (verse 21), and God bara a human in the image of God (verse 27).  Only basic energy and matter, animal life and humanity were created.  Everything else accomplished in the period of formation was made from combining already existing material and in scientifically explainable ways.  We can replicate that behavior ourselves, and that gets us to Rabbi Soloveitchik's point.

            The Rav asks the following question:  Why did God at the end of this chapter only call the things which were made tov me'od (very good, verse 31)?  I would have thought that the really good stuff would be the results of the more amazing acts of bara not the more mundane acts of assa.   To answer this question the Rav begins by asking another question.  How very Jewish of him!  Here's the second question:  Since the Omnipotent God could have created the finished product of our earth in an instant, why did the Deity only get to this stage through a long process?  This is basically the same question asked at the beginning of the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot (Why did God create the world with ten statements?), but with a radically different answer.

            To develop his answer, the Rav presents us with one more detail about the period of Creation.  He quotes the famous Midrash that God created and destroyed multiple universes before settling on this one.  He has God saying:  Those (worlds) don't please Me; these do please Me.  Even though the Rav admits that we can never get to the bottom of understanding how God thinks, nevertheless we can come to certain conclusions about God's motives.  God's care and concern in the Creation of humanity we believe means that God wants us to be partners in the development of this realm.  Therefore God displays a trial and error method for construction because we will have to do our part that way.  Remember this book is a manual for humans, not a study of God.  The best stuff in the world are the things into which we put the most effort.  The Rav suggests child rearing as the paradigm for careful and continual attention to the get the desired product.

            Then the Rav makes a final and indelible point.  According to this Midrashic approach many worlds were destroyed and then rebuilt.  It's many times more difficult to rebuild than to build initially.  It wasn't such a big deal to plan and build the original World Trade Center, but the replacement has required much thought and fine tuning.  The Rav's example of this was Rabbi Akiva.  After the death of twenty-four thousand of his students, the aged Rabbi Akiva did the unthinkable.  He went back to work teaching a new batch.  In our times the Klausenberger Rebbe exemplifies that amazing ability in his rebuilding of both his family and his Chassidut after the Holocaust.  Easier said than done.

            The whole point of all the details in the chapter of Creation is to present the young human race with the necessary pedagogic material to allow us to grow and develop.  We have to learn how to lalechet b'derachov, to walk in God's ways.  We may never understand why God does it a certain way, but, hopefully we can learn how God does things. If we want to be God's partner in this enterprise of world building, we must adopt God's methods.  Then we can take our place as the heroes in The Book Which Records the Undertakings of Mankind.           


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Sunday, September 22, 2013

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