This coming Shabbat, we read the spectacular Torah portion of Breisheet, Genesis, the beginning of all things.
It starts with those still amazing words, Breisheet Barah Elohim, “At the beginning of God’s creating,” or, “In the beginning God created.” Simple, lucid and concise, all creation emanating from one point and place, a divine force or intelligence or energy starting the great process of existence and eventually of life. A singularity. A poem to the holy unity of all being. Everything comes from the same source.
And yet, the text of Genesis is deliberately ambiguous in order to encourage exploration and debate, the essential tools we human beings have for learning truth and discerning meaning. Questions abound: Why is God necessary at all for creation? As the great Jewish poet Paul Celan wrote, “No one kneads us again out of earth and clay. No one summons our dust… Blessed art Thou, No One.” I would argue with Celan that such a wonder as creation did not come into being purely by accident. But there is room for argument, which is good, and perhaps God-given, as well as very Jewish.
The notion that God created and then saw each thing as good provoked from the great British author D.H. Lawrence the poetic speculation that the true “mystery of creation is the divine urge of creation… a great, strange urge... Even an artist knows his work was never in his mind, he could never have thought it before it happened… God is a great urge, wonderful, mysterious, magnificent, but he knows nothing beforehand. God’s urge takes shape in the flesh, and lo! It is creation! God looks on it himself in wonder, for the first time. Lo! There is a creature formed! How strange! Let me think about it! Let me form an idea!”
Again, we can argue, discuss and explore whether such a marvel as the intricate workings of our world, or our bodies, or even a single cell could exist without some coherent plan or design. What a rich area for intellectual and spiritual engagement.
Genesis is where real understanding and learning begin. This is where we start to shape our faith and our theology. This book helps form our character.
This is how Torah commences: with the invitation to begin exploring a great and holy text, in partnership with God, in community with the whole people of Israel.