Shmini Atzeret 5774 – Rabbi Riskin (text)

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

Efrat, Israel“In the Beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth… Let us make the human being in our image and after our likeness.”

 Why did G-d create the world? If G-d is the All-in-All and perfectly sufficient within Himself, why the necessity for a world? And why a world such as the one in which we live, in many respects a vale of tears and tragedy? From many perspectives, this is the question of all questions. It has special poignancy – and is therefore closely related – to the Days of Awe which we have just experienced and even for the festival of Succot, in which the Divine decree regarding rain is handed down from Above and is the conclusion of the period which marks individual human destiny.

Rav Haim Vital, the disciple-scribe of the legendary Rav Yitzhak Luria (known as the holy Ari), gives an amazing response to our query based upon G-d’s second revelation to Moses at Sinai when He forgives Israel and allows for the Second Tablets. The basis of our Yom Kippur liturgy is G-d’s own self-definition (as it were): “The Lord, the Lord, G-d, merciful and gracious…” (Exodus 34:6). G-d here defines Himself as a G-d of unconditional love, i.e., the G-d of love before one sins and the G-d of love after one sins (Rashi ad loc.), and the G-d of compassion who loves His children just as a mother loves those who came from her womb.

Love, however, cannot exist in a vacuum; love requires an object to be loved. And that object must also be a subject in and of itself; after all, love for something which one can control is loving an extension of one’s self and is only another form of self-love.

G-d, therefore, had to create “other,” someone who may be a part of Himself but who must also be separate from Himself, someone who would be granted freedom of choice. That freedom of choice must allow the beloved to do even that which the Lover would not want him to do (see Seforno to Genesis 1:26, “in our image”).

 This idea formulated by Rav Haim Vital has ramifications that impinge upon almost every human relationship, which poignantly expresses what love is and what love is not. If a husband loves only a wife whom he can control, if a parent loves only an adult child whom he can control, then one is loving not the other, but rather oneself, loving only an extension of oneself.

Clearly, this is not true love. Undoubtedly, love which leaves room for the other to do even that which one would not want him to do leaves the door open to conflict and – in the case of G-d – human sin. In the most extreme case, it enables the possibility of Auschwitz and Treblinka. And, from a theological perspective, does not such uncontrolled freedom of choice place an inordinate limitation on G-d’s power? At this point we must enter into our discussion the very profound and bold image of tzimtzum; this kabbalistic notion suggests that, in creating the world, G-d constricted or limited Himself in order to leave room for the other in a very real and palpable way. To be sure, G-d does make two promises: He will always step in to make certain that Israel, the people of the Covenant, will never be destroyed and that we will ultimately return to Israel (Leviticus 26). G-d also guarantees that we will eventually return to His teachings and therefore will be worthy of being redeemed.

And the prophets maintain that Israel will eventually fulfill the Abrahamic charge of bringing redemption to the entire world.

However, a G-d of love had to create independent individuals who would be worthy of His love, who would serve as His partners and not merely as His pawns or puppets.

This theological underpinning magnificently explains the significance of Rosh Hashana. On the day of the creation of the first human being, we are commanded to blow the ram’s horn, the musical instrument by which kings of Israel were crowned. We learn on Rosh Hashana that it is the task of Israel to bring the message of a G-d of love, peace and morality to the entire world. It is the task of Israel to eventually enthrone G-d in the world because, after all, there is no king without subjects.

G-d has been accepted as King by us, but not yet by the world at large. Our task is a daunting one, but G-d promises that we will succeed. The drama of history is fraught with human failure, Divine forgiveness and ultimate reconstruction and repair. This process began in the Garden of Eden, continued through the Sin of the Golden Calf in the desert and encompasses the destructions of both Temples followed by exile and persecution. However, our G-d is a G-d of love – and love means to give, love means to forgive. Love also empowers the beloved, and we have certainly been empowered by G-d’s promise of our eventual redemption. Our return to and development of the State of Israel is a powerful affirmation of G-d’s empowerment. G-d willing, this time we will truly succeed.

Shabbat Shalom

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Share this post