Once upon a time God began to create. God created separation; heaven and earth. God created a light with no source. God created day and night, light and dark, without the benefit of a sun or stars.
Bereshit, “when beginning”… this is the first word of the Torah, which will be read in synagogues around the world this weekend as we begin the annual cycle of reading and rereading the first five books of the Bible.
We know many details of God’s creation, how God created, what God made and when, but we are never told the answer to an essential question: Why?
Why did God decide to create?
There are theories. One is that God was lonely, wanted our company. This is difficult for me; after all, from the very beginning we weren’t very good company. First Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit, then Cain killed Abel, and humankind continued to go downhill until God decided to start over again with Noah. And that story didn’t end well either.
Another theory is that God wanted to be worshiped. This makes even less sense. It’s like children playing with toys and declaring themselves rulers of the kingdom. Such a “kingdom” isn’t much to brag about. I have difficulty with the idea of a God who’s that needy.
There’s a story by the 16th century Jewish mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria that when God started creating, God planned to pour a holy light into everything, the mysterious light of the first day. God made vessels to hold the light, but it was too strong and the vessels shattered.
In retelling the story in The Book of Miracles, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes “…we live in a cosmic heap of broken pieces, and God cannot repair it alone… our most important task in life is to find what is broken in our world and repair it. The commandments in the Torah instruct us, not only on how to live…, but on how to mend creation.”
A deity with the power to create anything can’t fix some broken pots? And needs our help?
As far-fetched as this sounds, it gives us important insights into the imagined relationship between humankind and our gods. We don’t want to be companions for our god; we’ve got other humans for friendship. And we don’t want to imagine a god who treats us as playthings. A god like that might become bored with her creations and desert them.
We yearn to be part of something greater than ourselves. Whether a Creative God exists or not, we want to know that we have a higher purpose than simply to live and die. We want the journey between birth and death to mean something.
By imagining ourselves as partners with the Creator in repairing the world, in tikkun olam, we too become creators – creators of our own destiny, of a higher purpose to which we can aspire. Every simple act of kindness becomes a piece of the process of becoming.
If we are to be partners with the Divine in repairing the world, we must first take responsibility for our role in its woes. The broken vessels that couldn’t hold the Light aren’t the only brokenness. We have done much to harm this world, and each other. The task of repair is beyond imagining, and yet we must not only imagine it, we must begin anew, every day. As Rabbi Tarfon says in the Talmud, it is not ours to complete the task, but we are not free to desist from it.
I believe that the Light of Creation, the light that God created and was unable to corral, shines on each of us and from within each of us. And I believe that this Light is the answer to the question of why.
Why? Because Light deserves to exist. Needs to exist. Because Light Is.
Thomas Brayshaw said:
What is the best translation (or maybe most literal translation) of bereshit? This article is the best answer I have seen on the reason for creation.
SRQ Jew said:
Thanks! Bereshit, like many Hebrew words, is a compound word. The letter bet at the beginning can mean “in” or “when.” Because of the vowel beneath that letter, it is incorrect to translate it as “in the.” The second part, raysheet, is closely linked to the word rosh, which means head. It is not a commonly used word for begin. But then, the beginning of the Torah isn’t a common thing! I chose to use the translation “when beginning” because it indicates intention on God’s part.