Sunday, October 14, 2012


Creation in Three Steps (1:3)  

Man has the capacity not merely to adapt to his environment, but to shape the world.


Creation in Three Steps (1:3)

Torah means instruction and teaching. The name itself defines the Book. It is not a syllabus of ancient history, geography, or old family tales. It is a Book of laws, guiding us as to proper conduct and behavior. Torah answers not, “How did we come to be?” but, “How shall I live?” Therefore, even a fact as fundamental as Creation does not, in and of itself, justify its presence in the Torah.                   

How then are we to understand the opening chapter of Genesis? One of Judaism’s more striking propositions is that we, who are formed in G-d’s image, are called upon to imitate Him. “Be holy, for I, the L-rd your G-d, am holy.” (Vayikra 19:2) Or as the Sages put it: Just as G-d is gracious, so you be gracious. Just as He is merciful, so you be merciful. The qualities that are attributed to G-d must be cultivated by man. Implicit then in the first chapter of Genesis is this momentous challenge: Just as G-d is creative, so you be creative.       

In making man, G-d endowed one creature with the capacity not merely to adapt to his environment, but to adapt his environment to him; to shape the world that surrounds him. The narrative of Creation tells us how.

G-d said, “Let there be…and there was…and G-d saw that it was good. Three small steps: each on its own will not produce something greater than ourselves, but taken together they offer the most comprehensive account of all successful initiative.                                                   

G-d said, “Let there be.” What singles out man among other animals is his ability to speak. Because we can communicate, we can share with others our vision of a world different from the one that currently exists.   

Of course, we all possess grandiose ideas. But how many of us conceal our brainchild for fear of it being shot down as a pipedream? Imagined embarrassment has probably stifled the inspiration of too many individuals who just did not have the boldness to declare, “Let there be...”                                                                       

All creativity therefore begins with a dream articulated. This is why Judaism takes words so seriously as the Book of Proverbs says, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” But perhaps the wise Solomon was referring to the “Life and Death” of any project that depends if we use our tongue or not. Foreshadowed here, at the dawn of time, is the Biblical doctrine of Revelation; G-d reveals Himself not in stars, wind, or storm, but through His sacred words that invite us to be co-speakers in Creation.                                                          

 “And there was.” If the first stage of creation requires courage, the second demands perseverance. It is one thing to suggest an idea, another to execute it. Because between proposition and reality, lies struggle, opposition, and the fickleness of the human will. It is all too easy, having tried and failed, to conclude that ultimately nothing can be achieved, and that our endeavor is destined to fail.    

“And there was,” proves that though ‘creation’ is difficult and fraught with setbacks, we are summoned to it as our essential human vocation. There is a lovely Rabbinic phrase, Machashvah tovah Hakodosh baruch Hu mitztaraf le-maaseh. This is usually translated as, “G-d considers a good intention as if it were the deed.” Let  us suggest a variant translation: “When a human being has a good intention, G-d joins in helping it become a deed,” meaning - He gives us the strength, if not today, then eventually, to turn our maaseh - our effort into accomplishment.      

Many philosophers maintain that the human will is an illusion and the idea that we are what we choose to be is a myth. Our lives, they argue, are determined by other factors; genetically encoded instincts, economic or social forces, and conditioned reflexes. Judaism is a protest against determinism. We are not pre-programmed machines; we are persons, endowed with choice. Just as God is free, so we are free, “And there was,” is a call to mankind to exercise that freedom.                                      

“G-d saw that it was good,” Nerve and effort, however, will only get you so far, unless you integrate the lesson of stage number three. In the course of counseling many young people (in trouble) and couples (in trouble with each other), I discovered a common malaise.  They, like you and me, had begun with hope, ambitions, and aspirations. They did not want to fail. Their tragedy was that no one ever told them that they were good. The other people in their lives (parents, teachers, or spouses) always pointed out their flaws and failures. They therefore lacked self-respect, and a sense of their own worth.                               

Within all of us is something positive, but which is all too easily injured, and only grows when exposed to the sunlight of someone else’s recognition and praise. This is done not by criticism but by searching out the good in others, and helping them recognize it, and live it.       

Thus to see good in someone else and to point it out is perhaps the most creative act we will ever do. In the words of the Jerusalem Talmud, “Greater is one who causes others to do good than one who does good himself.”  The mark of a true creator - in true imitation of the first Creator - is to give birth to the creativity in someone else’s soul. That is what G-d does for us, and what He summons us to do for others.

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