“Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created.” (Genesis 2:4)
Parashat B’reishit begins the annual cycle of Torah reading. It opens with seven Hebrew words that make profound theological and aesthetic statements: “In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)
Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903–94; an Israeli intellectual known for his outspoken opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion and politics) states this first verse makes clear two things: God is not in the world (because God existed before the world was created) and the world is subordinate to God (because it needed God to create it). This is a statement of faith, which cannot be known; it can only be believed.
The verse also makes a statement about creativity and aesthetics. It introduces creativity as a process that once begun, continues to unfold. We see this clearly in the account that describes each day’s creation, culminating with humanity on Day Six, followed by the creation of Shabbat. Less obvious is the Torah’s statement on aesthetics: if God is free to create the world, why does it come out this way (blue skies, green grass) as opposed to any other way? One answer is found in the Zohar (The most important work of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism): God looks into the Torah and creates the world accordingly (Zohar, T’rumah 161a).
B’reishit reminds us God’s primary attribute is creativity. It poses an interesting challenge for the coming year: if Jewish thought exhorts us to act, “In the image of God, and if creativity is defined as arranging elements in ways never seen before, how can we take the routines of our lives and combine them in new ways that are both pleasing and inspiring.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom!