Bein Bayam u’bein Bayabasha: Parshat Breishit
In the beginning, God created partnerships- distinctions of a two sided nature. These were unconventional shidachim (matches). They were actually more along the lines of yin and yang, polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. Opposites that only exist in relation to each other.
On the first day, God created light. Chapter 1 Verse 4 states that God saw the light that it was good, and he separated, vayavdeil, between light and darkness. On the first day God makes the first havdalah, a distinction between light and darkness. The word, “lihavdil” means to separate but also “on the contrary”, showing the interconnected faces of the same coin. Without darkness there is nothing to stimulate our minds to comprehend the level of brightness in the world. One cannot exist without the other. And as such, we view God, the creator of light and darkness, as a deity of duality- the God of both sides.
On the second day, God makes a distinction between “mayim l’mayim”, between the waters below and the waters above.
On the third day, “hayabasha”, dry land, is created when the boundaries are formed from the waters. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. A day, as well, built on both evening and morning. Later on in Chapter 2 verse 5 (chapter 2 being the a 2nd telling of the creation story) we learn about the partnership between aretz (earth) and shamayim (heavens), for without rain there are no crops.
Bringing us to day four: “lhavdil ben yom uvein halaila”- making a separation between day and night.
Skipping ahead, when God has created everything by the end of the sixth day, he remarks that it is all not just good but “very good.”
Which brings us to that partnership between the 6th day, the seemingly culminating day of creation, and Shabbat. When chanting at home, Kiddush begins with the last section of this verse, the last verse of the first chapter of Genesis: Vayihi erev vayihi boker yom shishi, and Kiddush concludes with the first verses of the second chapter. Tradition teaches that Shabbat, is not another story but an integral part of creation. It goes beyond the “Jewish cycle” where we finish the fifth book and start a Genesis immediately afterwards. This shows again the polarities of creation- without the work, resting on Shabbat means nothing. And in turn, without resting, work is just…life.
We do find a disturbing theological debate in the second telling of the creation story in chapter 2. The Book of Isaiah 45:7 writes, “yotzer or u’voreh choshech, oseh shalom u’voreh et ha’ra.” Some may notice that outside of the final word, this line looks familiar, used following the bar’chu prayer in our morning tefillot. The liturgists found the parallelism troubling- God could yotzer or u’voreh choshech- fashion light and create darkness, but oseh shalom u’voreh et hara- making piece and creating trouble, seemed, ironically, troublesome. But in reading these chapters from Genesis, there’s the realization that things can only be “tov” or “tov m’od” if there is a concept of something “lo tov” and “lo tov m’od.” And so we find Genesis 2:9 stating, “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. A new concept: a deity responsible for both the good and the troublesome.
One partnership with potential greatness is the one between God and humanity. We are created btzelem elohim, in the image of God, in Chapter 1. In Chapter 2:7, the text states that God “vayipach b’apav nishmat chayim”, and the Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. We are partners with God. God is part of everything we do. The land produces fruit only when God causes the rain to fall and humanity tills the land. For a modern understanding, we can look back at the Kiddush that we visited earlier. The initials of God’s name, Yud hei vav and hei, are found in the linking words yom hashish vayichulu hashamayim. God is part of our work, part of our rest. And in the spirit of duality, we are part of his work, part of God’s rest.
It is common for the Torah to anthropomorphize God, to give God human qualities. It gives us context for an omnipotent being who was seemingly far far away compared to the other deities thousands of years ago. Psalm 115 states “peh lahem v’lo y’dabeiru, einaim lahem v’lo ir’u”. How does God stack up to these other deities? Does God speak? Does God see? In a brief rundown of God’s humanlike actions and emotions, we have the following:
1:3 Vayomer- God says let there be light
1:4 Vayar- God sees the light, that it was good.
1:5 Vayikra: God calls the light day, and the darkness night.
2:3 Vayvareikh: God blesses the 7th day and sanctifies it.
Jumping to after the story of Adam and Eve, and of Cain and Abel.
6:5 Vayar- God saw that man’s wickedness was great in the land
6:6 Vayinachem And God “reconsiders what to do”- relationship changes. The root here (nachem) means comfort as well.
Vayitatzev el libo- grieved at his heart
In reading this first parsha, God has a “plan”. He wants to have children, be it the world and all its inhabitants. God has children. God names them. God blesses them. Down the road God is upset, a little disappointed in how things have turned out. God is sad. God needs to be comforted.
God has attempted to construct order amidst chaos, a delicate balance of distinct ying and yangs in a world that has tovu vavohu, everything upside down, even before he starts creating. Like God, we all have plans in life. This is what my life is going to look like. This is where I’d like to be today, tomorrow, next year. Over the high holidays, we think of how we’ll change in the coming year and create set parameters for how to achieve those goals. We, too, find that the world is not always catered to our master plans. There is chaos; there are outside factors that inhibit our ability to stick to the plan.
When we find that life is living outside these pairings of good and bad, outside the order God established during creation, what do we do? How do we get out of the tovu vavohu? How do we found grounding when we lie somewhere that’s neither yin or yang?
If our relationship with God is one where one cannot breathe without the other, like these other partnerships of creation, then our vision of how we view ourselves and how we view God must be the same. If we are to anthropomorphize God to give him human traits, Gods actions, emotions, and attributes should be our own aspirations. What a powerful statement- that we can do Godly things in this world. Why not start with God’s first act- “or”, light. We bring light to the world. The Jewish people are known as “or lagoyim,” a light unto the nations.
Reb Elemelekh of Lizhensk wrote in the 18th century that the reason the Prophet Isaiah said “yotzeir or u’voreih choshech” in the present tense and not in the past, is that God is continually creating light in this world. So too, then, is this our responsibility to do the same, to enlighten those dark gloomy places.
This past Tuesday, the State of Israel brought Gilad Shalit m’afeilah l’orah- from five years of darkness, from calamity, from gloominess to light. The debate will continue for some time- is one life worth that a thousand? All I know is that it is up to us to enlighten this world. The Shalit family’s life was turned upside down, tovu vavohu. Today, the light has returned. The State of Israel now stands on uneasy ground, knowing the delicate nature of the moment. In a poll conducted Tuesday, 80% of Israelis agreed with the exchange for Gilad Shalit, while roughly half believed that the released prisoners would return to violence. So is the importance of pidyon shvu’im, the return of captives. In this broken world, we must not assume someone else will make tough decisions to bring those from distress to relief, to deliver them from darkness to light. In this broken world, where God’s yin and yangs become unhinged by unbalanced chaos, there are individuals who suffer oppression and imprisonment. How can we bring light to this world?
Many of you have the prayer Acheinu, recited every Monday and Thursday. The words may sing true this week more than others for the State of Israel, for the Nation of Israel…..
If we are true partners with God, we must also bring those in darkness to light, from stress to comfort. AsGod is “yotzer or” (fashioner of light) may we become fashioners of light, yotzrei or. As God is oseh shalom (maker of piece) may we also be the counterpart, osim shalom, makers of peace as well.