Creation Through Knowledge
Rabbi Stacy Schlein
Rosh Hashana Renew My Soul
(Large translucent bowl, spoon, measuring cup, dough, chocolate, fan & water)
Is there anyone here who likes to cook? I love to cook – sometimes. There are two types of people who like to cook. Those who like to work from a recipe. Those who like to create their own. I prefer to use a recipe. It is so satisfying to take a variety of ingredients step by step, pull them together and voila – deliciousness!
This year as I was reading the story of creation, I wondered how it would be written if it were a recipe. When God began to create the heavens and the earth. The earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water – God said, “Let there be light; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called night. There was evening and there was morning a first day.
If in fact, if the entire purpose of this poetic passage is to teach us how the world was created, all we would need to do, is follow the recipe. Perfect! I have always dreamed of creating the world. Title of our Recipe: Heaven and Earth. I just need my bowl, measuring cup, large spoon. Check. Let me get the ingredients that I need. Take equal parts of unformed and void. Unformed – that must be a ball of dough. Void that must be nothing. I have plenty of nothing so that is no problem. How will I be able to measure it? Fine, I will just try to put it in my measuring cup. Hmm. Maybe making the world is easier than I thought. Add a little darkness – obviously that must be chocolate. Great! Wind from God. Oh look, there is a special note. If you are unable to harness the wind from God, feel free to use a handheld fan. (pull out a fan) Sweeping over the water. Wait, a minute. Wait a minute. My ingredient list never said there was water. Where did the water come from? God said, let there be light: and there was light. Perfect, when I open the oven, there will be a light.
I don’t know about you, but when I read the portion this way, it is crystal clear that this passage is not a step by step recipe to create the world. It is about a different type of creation.
In a lot of ways, Rashi, the most famous Torah commentators, had the same question. Based on how The Torah begins, with the word – Bereshit, Rashi’s states “The Torah Demands Darsheini – Interpret Me!” Aviva Zornberg, a modern Torah Scholar says “What emerges from Rashi’s provocative statement is a sense of the gaps, the unexplained, the need to examine and reexamine. ” (Genesis, The Beginning of Desire page 4)
A number of other scholars argue that the whole purpose of the story of creation is to elevate and create a hierarchy where humans are the highest. Consider all of God’s creations. What really differentiates people from animals? From Plants? From Oceans? It is clear – our intellect (Point.) The Rambam, a medieval Jewish philosopher, explained in The Guide to the Perplexed, that we are like God due to what he defines as, the Divine Intellect. It is this Divine Intellect that enables us to be in the image and likeness of God.
Consider the action words that God uses to make things happen: Said, Separated, Called, and Made. Think about your own mind, how you think? How you learn things? What happens? Do you ever feel different ideas swirling around in your head so much so that you need to say it out loud just to make sense of it? Sometimes I feel like I need to pull ideas apart and stretch them out. Create distinctions so I can understand them better. (PULL) Light, dark. black, white. Well, you get the idea. Once I am able to understand all of the differences and unique qualities, then it happens: the fireworks. Once you learn a new idea, it is extraordinarily exciting. Once you tackle a really challenging problem and figure it out, it feels like there is very little in the world that you cannot accomplish.
So what if it is true? What if the single most important aspect of us as people is our intellect? If in fact, this is your greatest gift, what are you doing to nurture it? How will you challenge yourself? Are you doing things to focus so that you can get the most out of your mind? What recipe will you follow?
Earlier I explained that there are two types of people who like to cook. Those who like to work from a recipe. Those who like to create their own. I prefer to use a recipe but, perhaps this year I should not. It is too easy to follow a recipe, step by step. It is too easy to find yourself in the same patterns, the same habits and the same mindset. Why not break out of it? Why not try something new? Why keep doing things over and over just because the recipe says so?
As Rabbi Hillel cautions in The Pirke Avot – Do not separate yourself from the community… Do not say something that cannot be understood but will be understood in the end. (Do) not say: When I have time I will study because you may never have the time. (Pirke Avot 2:5)
I challenge you to consider Rabbi Hillel’s words as a recipe for intellectual growth and inspiration for the coming year. Stretch yourself to Learn, Grow and Study with someone else. It can be one person, it can be an entire class. Yes, of course, I would love it if would happen here at The Temple. Beautiful things, holy things, happen when you learn in community. Do not give up just because something is really complicated. Push yourself to a higher intellectual capacity. Most of all, do not allow yourself to say that you do not have time to study. I can tell you right now You don’t have time. Why? Because it does not belong to you. It never has and it never will. So instead, make it! Find it! You will always have responsibilities and important things to do but, you will be transformed when you take time for Torah. Push yourself to try a new intellectual challenge. It will be worth it. Once you decide how and what you are going to do, by all means, please share your recipe.