We have finished another year of Torah, another year in our Jewish Community. This Shabbat we begin the Torah again with Parashat Bereishit. Our first sentence in the whole Torah is Bereishit bara Elokim et hashamayim v’et haaretz. This is commonly translated as “In the Beginning HaShem created the heavens and the earth.” Rashi believed it was to be interpreted differently. His wording was, “In the beginning of HaShem’s creating.” This is an important distinction. The phrase implies that while being early in the process, these entities were part of an ongoing creation or creative sequence, rather than the beginning and end of a 1 time event. A creation that was before, and a creation that continues.
During what I like to call the “active phase” of creation, there are 3 stages listed by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. The Torah actually contains instruction on how to be creative. The first is the stage of saying yehi, “Let there be.” The second is the stage of vayehi, “and there was.” The third is the stage of seeing “that it is good.” vayarei zeh et ki-tov.
What is unique about the Jewish perspective in the world is that we see ourselves as partners in the divine creative process. As such we are the only creatures who speak of our own free will. Even the angels only have a limited free will. They exist to serve HaShem, and so in reality may only speak with His permission and intention. Humans can conceive, develop, refine and make use of wondrous technologies and ideas. There is no doubt that these advances, particularly in information technology and medicine, reflect areas that were left for us to build, as stated in my favorite and often quoted Lubavitcher saying “The world was left incomplete so that you could have a hand in building it.”
And we must build it on good concepts. The founding text of the Mussar movement, Mesilat Yesharim, states directly,
“But, behold man stands on a great balance. For if he is drawn after the world and distances from his Creator, behold, he corrupts himself and corrupts the world with him. But if he rules over himself and clings to his Creator, and uses the world only as an aid to serve his Creator – then he elevates himself and elevates the world with him.”
This brings us back to our creative steps. Step 2, there was. As a person who has made a living in a creative field, I can attest to the hardest part of any endeavor being the step after conception being the obvious, actually doing the thing you thought up.
Judaism holds that though creation is difficult, laborious and fraught with setbacks, we are summoned to it as our essential human vocation: “It is not for you to complete the work,” said Rabbi Tarfon, “but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Mishna, Avot 2:16). There is a lovely rabbinic phrase: maĥashva tova HaKadosh barukh Hu meztarfah lema’aseh (Tosefta, Pe’ah 1:4)
This is usually translated as “HaShem considers a good intention as if it were the deed.” Rabbi Sacks translates it differently: “When a human being has a good intention, HaShem joins in helping it become a deed,” meaning – He gives us the strength, if not now, then eventually, to turn it into achievement. To bring us back to the quote from Mesilat Yesharim, when we cling to HaShem, when we build the Jewish people, build the goyim around us, we “step up” to our role as partners in creation and ‘tip the scales’ of our world to positivity.
Our need to follow through with action is perfectly summed up by Rav Soloveitchik in The Lonely Man of Faith;
“The brute’s existence is an undignified one because it is a helpless existence. Human existence is a dignified one because it is a glorious, majestic, powerful existence…Man of old who could not fight disease and succumbed in multitudes to yellow fever or any other plague with degrading helplessness could not lay claim to dignity. Only the man who builds hospitals, discovers therapeutic techniques, and saves lives is blessed with dignity…Civilised man has gained limited control of nature and has become, in certain respects, her master, and with his mastery he has attained dignity as well. His mastery has made it possible for him to act in accordance with his responsibility”
This brings us to stage 3, vayarei zeh et ki tov. To see that it is good. We have a creative gift that allows great positivity. We can also use this gift in horribly destructive and evil ways. Through the prophet Yeshayahu HaShem says
“יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע…(Isa 45:7)”
Yotzeir or uvoreh choshech. Oseh shalom uvorei ra. “I make light, and fashion darkness. I make peace, and create evil.”
We, as partners in creation, also have this ability. We can create evil in copious amounts. The holocaust was nothing if not a damning indictment of humanism at its core. Nietzsche himself, the very author of the will to power stated in his book “The Joyful Science, “Do not think that once religion has perished that science will be enough to establish and maintain morality” Scientific progress deals in results, not principles. If I can lie and get away with it, I am winning the survivalist lottery. I remember my Chabad Rabbi in college, Rabbi Yossi, saying I believe on this same Parsha, “Science is here to tell us how, Torah is here to tell us why.” Or my own interpretation, “Science is here to give us fact. Torah is here to give us truth
So today, as we study Bereishit, what will we create? What will we prevent? And how will we tip our global scales? For good? Or bad? Shabbat Shalom.