"In the beginning…." (Genesis)
"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end…" (Semisonic, the band)
No, this isn't a comparison of rock band lyrics. Rather, it's another attempt to unpack the first words of the Torah. The "genesis" of Genesis, if you will. If every beginning comes from the end of something, what was it that ended as the world was beginning? We get a hint in the next verse, " V'ha-aretz haita tohu v'vhu …The land was unformed and void." It was chaos out there, folks, so does that mean God had created chaos first? And the act of creation was really just a straightening up of the universe?
The Jewish Publication Society commentary says, "That God should create disorganized matter, only to reduce it to order, presents no more of a problem than does [God] taking six days to complete creation instead of instantaneously producing a perfected universe." (The JPS Torah Commentary, Genesis, page 6)
Just like Semisonic says, the beginning of the universe meant the end of something else. Something existed before " Bereshit bara …." But what? Clearly God was around, so there's that. But what was surrounding God? Chaos. Unformed land. Darkness existed, and so did wind and water, because we read, "…with darkness over the surface of the deep, and a wind from God sweeping over the water." (v.2)
These were the raw materials that were present when God set out to begin the Universe. Darkness, water, wind, land. But it wasn't in a usable condition; it couldn't support life, there was no hope of life. Nothing could grow or thrive in that environment. So, God created the environment in which life could begin. God saw the potential, but knew the setting wasn't right. God saw what could be, saw what was laying around, and saw what needed to be done to get there.
None of us starts anything new in a vacuum. We begin something new only when we see what could be, see what's laying around, and see what's needed to be done to get there. Creation in our lives starts from a place of chaos, where there may be fragments of useful material. Great things may come from the chaotic material, but first we need to clear away the dross so the creativity can burst forth. When we see the possibilities, we can hover over the deep of the chaos, breathe in the potential, and sweep away the obstacles.
Just today I was talking with someone who really felt that the future of the Jewish community was in significant decline, and feared for the future. This is not new. We all know someone who believes this; maybe it's you.I don't believe it. The Jewish community will survive; it just may not look like it did before.
We are at the moment of chaos before the Creation. We have lots of fragments scattered around. We have the wind and the water, the darkness and the unformed landscape. But just as God didn't create a fully-formed universe, opting instead for building steps, one after the other, in order that balance and awareness could be maintained and cultivated, so we must build upon the raw resources we have laying around. The land was unformed; God refashioned it so it could sustain life. The water was in the heavens; God brought it near to the land, so the two could thrive off each other.
We have passion and creativity. Kindness and tolerance. Knowledge and learning. Tradition and Torah. We can all be part of the "
…," seeing possibilities in the
chaos and bringing forth what happens next.
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, at www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com .