Creation Begins with Separation
All creation begins with separation.
Think about it. When a child is born… when a loved one dies… when your job ends… when you finish college… when you move… when you have an idea that bubbles to the surface… look at how many separations we go through in the course of our lives!
Yet we know that at each turn, the separation (perceived as “good” in some circumstances and “bad” in others) ultimately leads to the creation of something else in our lives and in the world.
I know that when I got divorced, which was the right thing to do from the point of view of my mental/ emotional health and my former spouse’s, it still felt “bad,” like I had failed, even though in the long run, both of us became happier and healthier people (“good”) because of it.
I learned this essential idea about creation emerging from separation from sitting in a class taught by Rabbi Mitch Chefitz, formerly of Temple Beth Am, the Havurah of South Florida and Temple Israel, who has helped me perceive the incredibly layered meanings of our Torah every time I’ve learned with him.
Just a few days ago, Jews around the world rejoiced on Simchat Torah as we finished reading the last book of Torah-- Devarim/Deuteronomy-- and began again with the first book Bereisheet/ Genesis.
The opening chapters of Bereisheet are the kind of story early childhood teachers love to tell our little ones, who come home to us with lovely art projects illustrating the 6 days of creation.
Compared to the scientific version of creation (Big Bang, evolution, etc.) the story seems trivial and outdated. Note the emphasis on “seems.”
So many people do not realize that the Torah can be read through the lens of PaRDeS:
1) P’shat- the simple, superficial, obvious meaning (just the facts, ma’am)
2) Remez- the hinted at, associational meaning (finding patterns, relationships)
3) Drash- the interpreted, expounded meaning for our lives (making it personal)
4) Sod- the secret, mystical, illusory meaning (the really big ideas of life)
Bereisheet is a beautiful example of these layers. On the surface, the account seems like a lovely little early childhood story (P’shat).
But when we look deeper, we see patterns (Remez). The one I’ll focus on here is the pattern of progressive creation. Each day builds on the one before. The chaos of day one with the darkness and unformed void evolves into the increasing sophistication and complexity of day six with the creation of land animals and human beings.
Without day 3, in which dry land is formed-- thus enabling vegetation and fruit to serve for food, oxygen for breathing, and replication for sustainability-- none of the creatures that follow would be able to exist. This illustrates the progressive nature of creation— how we, mammals, need what was created on the days before in order to survive.
And it all starts with separation— Chapter One v.4 …and then G!D separated the light from the darkness—as well as v. 7 …G!D made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse.
The story even ends with the separation of human beings as the only creatures “made in the Divine Image” (vvs.26-27) and Shabbat as a day of kedushah/ holiness, which the rabbis define as meaning “separated, unique and distinct.”
So what can we learn from this? What meaning does it have for our lives?
We learn something paradoxical about the what it means to be human (Drash). On the one hand, human beings are the last and thus highest form of life. This whole world, say the rabbis, was made for us.
We are tasked with filling the earth and mastering it (v. 28). We are meant to be creators of worlds (physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually), just like The Divine.
But simultaneously, human beings are also the most dependent and weakest beings in the food chain, because we are far less self-sufficient and resilient than most animals, birds and insects. We know that (G!D forbid) in a nuclear war, our hardy Florida cockroaches will likely outlast everybody and everything.
From this “seemingly simple story,” we can clearly see a powerful environmental message-- that humans in all our complexity must take care of the world we live in or we will be the first to disappear!
So from this story, we learn both a strong message of creative human power as well as an increasingly crucial message of human ecological stewardship of the earth, which is not just a nice value, but essentially in our own best, long-term interest.
And then finally, we return to the profound idea with which we began (Sod).
All creation begins with separation.
We must separate and distinguish ourselves from animals in order to fulfill our role as human beings. That means sometimes NOT doing what comes naturally. If you observe the animal world, for example, you can clearly see that many of them overpower, trick or betray their sexual partners. These actions may be “natural” to us as mammals, but as human beings, we are called upon to rise to a higher standard, separating ourselves from animal behavior with our own partners.
Another separation-- distinguishing the 7th day of Shabbat from the other days-- in order to refresh ourselves as human beings.
Note we are NOT called “human do-ings,” since our essence is to reconnect to our soul, our be-ing, regardless of what we produce, create or do.
As we begin this new year of 5782, let us embrace the lessons expressed through a “seemingly simple story”: 6 days a week we should strive to be creative actors in the world through imitatio dei (behaving in G!Dly ways) and on the 7th day, we should strive to stop doing and just be, also in imitatio dei.
We recognize that while separations are often painful, they ultimately lead to the creation of something new, giving us an opportunity to grow… whether we appreciate it in the moment or not.
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and a new year of learning, flourishing and growth!