The Torah provides us with the rules, laws and framework through which to live a fully actualized life. The mitzvos are an expression of Divine will designed to help us attain personal holiness. Yet, this all-important Book of Laws doesn’t begin with instructions or commandments; it begins with a story. Not just any story. The story of creation.
We are told in great detail what God created on each day, culminating with Divine rest on Shabbos. It is a story we all know, yet, cannot comprehend. What is a “day” in the eyes of God? What does it mean to “create something from nothing?” Why include a story which the human mind cannot totally grasp and understand?
It is quite simple, actually. God teaches us how He built His world so that we may use the same strategies to build our own. We are each creators of our personal worlds. While it is true that we cannot choose so many of our circumstances, we create our reactions, we create relationships and we create many different realities. There are deep lessons embedded in the Genesis narrative that we can use to fashion and create meaningful lives and meaningful worlds.
“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, and let it be a separation between water and water.’ And God made the expanse and it separated between the water that was below the expanse and the water that was above the expanse, and it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven, and it was evening, and it was morning, a second day.” (Bereishis 1:6-8)
The commentaries point out the glaring omission – this verse omits “and God saw all that He did, and it was good (ki tov).”
Now why does it not say, “that it was good” on the second day? Because the work involving the water was not completed until the third day, although He commenced it on the second day, and an unfinished thing is not in its fullness and its goodness; and on the third day, when He completed the work involving the water and He commenced and completed another work, He repeated therein “that it was good” twice (sic): once for the completion of the work of the second day and once for the completion of the work of that [third] day. — [Gen. Rabbah 4:6]
The verse is indicating that success is measured by results, not just effort. But this verse is describing God. God only says, “ki tov” (it was good) when the job is done, for He controls the results. Man says “ki tov” every time he expends the necessary effort. Although we are made in the image of God, we do not use the same metric for success. God’s success is measured by results, our success is measured by effort. There are many times in life when we try and fail. We have dreams and aspirations and despite herculean effort, they never materialize. We take on initiatives and projects and we find ourselves unable to carry through. In those moments, we lament the failure, wasted time and resources. But it is in those very moments of perceived failure that we must remember that any time we try, we succeed. “I am a creator. In my world, ‘ki tov’ is the phrase that describes meaningful effort. If I try to make my dreams a reality, if I expend the energy to move myself forward, I have created a ‘ki tov’ moment. I am not God, I can’t control the results, I can’t guarantee success, but I can always guarantee maximum effort.”
As we enter this beautiful and incredible new year, we each begin to create new worlds. For some we must deconstruct old worlds to make room for the new, others we’ll build and add to already existing worlds. Let us remember that our ultimate legacy is the effort we expend and not the results we attain.
“In the beginning God created heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
From the time we are children, we are taught the awesome and inspiring story of creation. Through the verses we see all the cosmic pieces fit together to form a beautiful tapestry of Divine handiwork. The creation story appears simple, yet, we know it has many dimensions and deeper levels of understanding. In fact, many of the commentaries posit that we cannot even begin to understand the esoteric secrets contained in these verses. Yet, God included these chapters in His Torah and as such, there are lessons to be learned. What can we take away from the creation narrative and how can we use it to shape our new year?
When reading through the verses detailing the 6 Days of Creation, we see a pattern:
“And God said, ’Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (ibid 1:3)
“And God said, ’Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear,’ and it was so.” (ibid 1:9)
“’And they shall be for luminaries in the expanse of the heavens to shed light upon the earth.’ And it was so.” (ibid 1:15)
God wills it and it happens. This is one of the most spectacular aspects of the Divine Persona; He can make things happen instantaneously. Va’yomer Elokim Yihi Or, God wants there to be light – Va’yihi Or, there is light. God’s wishes require no effort to actualize. God’s will creates new realities. Not so with man. For man to see the actualization of his efforts, he must be willing to expend much energy, he must be willing to struggle, he must be prepared to experience set-backs and at times even fail. Yet despite all of this, man must possess the strength to keep trying. This is the lesson of creation; it is only God who can produce instantaneous results. We mortals must be willing to work hard and often. The entire story of creation is to teach us the greatness of God and simultaneously remind us that we cannot expect immediate results, gratification and success in our life endeavors. God can create with sheer will; we can only create with extreme effort.
On this Shabbos, Shabbos Bereishis we recite Birkas HaChodesh (we announce the arrival of the Hebrew month of Cheshvon in the week ahead). This prayer reflects the anticipatory hope that the coming month will be filled with blessing and fulfillment. The text we use comes from a prayer created by the great Talmudic sage, Rav. The Talmud quotes this beautiful prayer:
“Rav, on concluding his prayer, added the following: May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, to grant us long life, a life of peace, a life of good, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance, a life of bodily vigor (Chilutz Atzamos), honor, a
life in which we may be filled with the love of Torah and the fear of heaven, a life in which there is fear of sin, a life free from shame and confusion, a life of riches and which Thou shalt fulfil all the desires of our heart for good!” (Berachos 16b).
It is intriguing to note that we ask God for a life of Chilutz Atzamos (health, bodily vigor). There are more accurate words in Hebrew for health (e.g. refuah, briyus). If we analyze the phrase more carefully, we will find that it actually means, “strong bones.” Perhaps, we are asking God for “fortitude.” We turn to God on this first Shabbos of the new year, on this Shabbos when Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succos are behind us and an exciting yet daunting new year is ahead of us and we say, “God, please give me all of the wonderful blessings that life has to offer and please give me Chilutz Atzamos (fortitude) to see my various endeavors and efforts to fruition. Give me the staying power to be able to make it to the finish line of my life pursuits. Give me the strength to know that somehow things will work out.” In a universe where only God can achieve instantaneous results we ask God for the strength, the Chilutz Atzamos to achieve our life objectives.
It is on this Shabbos Bereishis, the Shabbos of creation, that we take stock of our present and begin to plan for our future. We pledge to ourselves to live better and more meaningful lives. We identify the aspects of life that need to change and the aspects that must be enhanced. We create a vision of what we would like the coming year to look like and create an action-plan to make it happen. We begin the year with unbridled optimism and excitement because we have been given another year in which to create a new world. Yet, we realize that we will hit roadblocks, encounter obstacles and sometimes even fall. It is during these moments that we are often tempted to abandon our plan and new life course saying, “I tried and it didn’t work out.” It is during these moments of failure and turbulence that we must remember only God can create the light of life with an utterance of the lips, only God can affect instantaneous results. We must work, struggle and ultimately persevere. It is during these challenging moments that we must look heavenward and ask God for an extra infusion of Chilutz Atzamos to allow us to be successful in the journey ahead.
Bereishis: Becoming the Creator
Rabbi Shmuel Silber
Why? It is a simple question with which Rashi begins his expansive commentary on the Torah. “Why must the Torah start with the story of creation?” The Torah is a book of laws given to us to teach us important and informative life-lessons. The Torah guides us on how to interact with one another and how to draw closer to God and ourselves. As such, why the need for the entire elaborate story? Why not just write, “And God created the world” – done. Rashi and many of the commentaries provide a number of meaningful and thought-provoking answers and approaches. But I would like to share with you a personally meaningful approach that not only answers this question but provides an important approach to life.
Now no tree of the field was yet on the earth, neither did any herb of the field yet grow, because the Lord God had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil (Bereishis 2:5).
Rashi explains: “The plants had not yet emerged, but they stood at the entrance of the ground until the sixth day. And why? Because there was no man to work the soil, and no one recognized the benefit of rain, but when man came and understood that they were essential to the world, he prayed for them, and they fell, and the trees and the herbs sprouted.”
God wanted man to pray. He wanted man to appreciate the beautiful world God had created. God wanted man to comprehend that all was created for him.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov advances a beautiful insight. “V’Al Keyn Nivra’u Kol HaDevorim Mechusar Tikkun, U’Gmar Tikkunam Al Yidey HaAdam, the entire world was created in an incomplete state and the completion of the World can only occur through man.” God intentionally created the world in a “deficient, imperfect” state. Why? Because He wanted man to partner with Him in the process of creation. Hashem could have created a finished product, a perfect world with no deficiencies. But He didn’t – because there would be nothing left for us to do. Hashem intentionally left pieces of creation in an unfinished state so that we can have the privilege of partnering with God in the creation of this beautiful world. God could have caused the trees, plants and vegetation to sprout forth immediately. Instead He waited, not simply because He wanted us to pray; He was inviting us to be part of the process of creating beauty and completion in this world.
Perhaps, this is why the Torah goes into such details with the creation story. God is telling us, “I have done my part. I created the heavens and the earth, the light and the dark and the sun and the moon. I have formed the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea. I willed the trees into existence, and fashioned the beautiful flowers and lush vegetation. I blew life into you, my children, my most beautiful creation. I have done my part in creation and now you must do yours.”
As we begin this beautiful and exciting new year of 5777 let us partner with God in advancing the cause of creation. If we see something that is deficient, if we see something that is broken, know that God is allowing us to see this because He knows that we have the creative ability to fix it.
May we be privileged to appreciate God’s magnificent creation and may He derive much pleasure and pride from ours.