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The Mysteries of Creation (Parshas Bereishis)

parsha sefer bereishis Sep 30, 2021


Sammy lived in a strange world. From the moment one entered adulthood, the government placed a special belt on them, one that was impossible to remove. This belt served to keep everyone in order. If someone defied a law, or misbehaved, the belt immediately administered an electric shock. The worse the offense, the stronger the shock. Everyone's private lives were monitored closely, so there was no escaping punishment.

Sammy, though, was bright and creative. And most of all, he was tired of living in such fear and submissiveness. He finally decided that he was going to do something about it. But he had one problem: there was no way to dismantle the belt without triggering an alarm that would notify the police. So for months, Sammy tried to think of different ways to circumvent the belt's alarm. But one day, the miraculous occurred. Sammy's belt malfunctioned. He couldn't believe it! Maybe the battery ran out too soon, or maybe the government had lost control of him, but Sammy didn't care; he was finally free!

At first, Sammy felt inclined to break the law. "Anarchy and chaos, here I come!" he happily thought to himself. Every time he broke the law, he relished the freedom he now had. But after a week of this, he began feeling bad about himself and started giving it some thought. He realized that deep down he really did want to be a good person, he wanted to do the right thing. The government had decided that the belts were necessary, because society had gotten so out of hand, there was no other way to keep peace and order. Only by limiting people’s free will could they ensure everyone's safety. But Sammy realized that even without the belt, he still wanted to do the right thing, through his own choice.

Weeks went by, and Sammy's life went on as usual. One day, as he was walking home, a police car stopped right next to him and an officer opened the door. "Hi Sammy, can you please come with me?" Startled and confused, Sammy nervously went with the officer, who took him straight to the police headquarters. "Oh no" Sammy thought. "They must know that my belt is broken! What if they decide to make an example of me; what if they lock me up! My life is over!"

The officer walked Sammy to a strange room filled with thousands of monitors. In the center stood the chief of police. "Hi Sammy, it's great to finally meet you," he said. "I know you're probably scared and confused. Please don't be; you have nothing to worry about. I want to show you something." On the monitor, Sammy saw a video of…. himself. It was the day his belt malfunctioned. What did this mean? What was happening?

"For the past few weeks, your belt has been out of service. But this wasn't a mistake. In fact, it was the opposite. You see, the belts are not ideal, they are only a means to an end. Years ago, they were a necessity. Free will had to be taken away for the greater good. But I believe that we are getting closer to the point where the people themselves can be trusted to make their own decisions, where their lives and choices are once more determined by their own free will. So we decided to use you as our prototype, to see what would happen if we deactivated your belt. And you know the rest of the story. Sammy, thank you for giving me hope in humanity."


Adam’s Creation Story


The theme discussed in the previous chapter is fundamental to every aspect of human experience, going back to the very creation of the world. Let us delve deeper into its application.


There is a strange recurring phenomenon throughout Parshas Bereishis: the Torah first describes one model of creation and then proceeds to depict a completely different, even contradictory picture of the same creation. For example:

  • The first perek of Bereishis [1] describes Adam as a being that was created bi'tzelem Elokim (in the image of God), an inspiring and divine portrayal of man and his role in the world.
  • However, the very next chapter [2] describes man as a physical being, formed from nothing more than the dirt of the earth, a description almost identical to the creation of animals.

What happened to the Godly, inspiring image of man?


Adam and Chava: One or Two?


A similar pattern occurs in the description of Chava’s creation:

  • In the first perek of Bereishis, the pasuk says that man and woman were created together, as one. [3]
  • However, the next perek describes Chava as being created as an individual, separate from Adam. [4]


The midrash explains that Adam and Chava were originally created as a single androgynous being, connected by the back and unified as one. Hashem then split Adam and Chava into two independent, separate beings. This begs the question: If they were supposed to be connected, why split them apart? And if they were destined to be split apart, why initially create them as one? Once again, we are presented with one model of reality before it is snatched away in favor of another. 


Luminaries and Trees


This same pattern extends to the creation of the luminaries:

  • When describing the creation of the sun and moon, the pasuk initially says that Hashem created two great lights. [5]
  • However, the pasuk continues by stating that the large luminary would illuminate the day, while the small luminary would be dedicated to the night.


The midrash [6] asks the obvious question: What happened to the two big lights? Why does the pasuk begin by stating that there were two great lights, but end by calling only the sun a great light? The midrash famously explains that the moon was originally created with equal stature to the sun, however, in an act of arrogance and ego, the moon asked Hashem how there can possibly be two dominant lights. As a result, Hashem shrunk the moon, and it became subservient to the sun.


A similar pattern occurs by the creation of trees. Hashem states that there shall be fruit trees – eitz pri- that bear fruits. [7] The next pasuk then describes the creation of tress that bear fruit.

  • The midrash [8] explains that originally, trees themselves, including their bark and branches, were supposed to taste like their fruits.
  • However, when they were actually created, this did not manifest. The bark of a tree tastes nothing like its sweet fruit.


What is the meaning of this recurring pattern? Why are so many elements of creation depicted in one way, before being described in a contradictory fashion?


The Answer: An Ideal, Followed by the Starting Point


As we explained in the past, the key to answering these questions lies in one of the most fundamental concepts in Judaism. The Arizal, Ramchal, Vilna Gaon, and many other Jewish thinkers explain that every process contains three stages:

  • The first stage is the high, the inspiration, an experience of perfection and clarity.
  • Next comes the second stage: a complete fall, a loss of everything that was experienced during the first stage.
  • Then there is the third stage, a return to the perfection of the first stage. However, this third stage is fundamentally different from the first. It is the same perfection, the same clarity, but this time it's a perfection and clarity that you have earned. The first time it was given to you, now you have worked to build it for yourself.


The first stage is a gift, a spiritual high. It's there to help you experience the goal, the destination. It's a taste of what you can and hopefully will ultimately accomplish; but it's not real, it's given as a gift, and is therefore an illusion. It serves only as a guiding force, but cannot compare to the genuine accomplishment of building something yourself. It is therefore taken away to allow for the second and most important stage: building it yourself, undergoing the work required to attain this growth in actuality, to work for the perfection that you were shown. A gift isn't real, something chosen and earned is. We're in this world to choose, to assert our free will, and to create ourselves. Now that we've tasted the first stage, we know what we're meant to choose, what we're meant to build. The third stage is the recreation of the first stage. While it appears the same, it's fundamentally different. It's real, it's earned, it's yours. The first stage was a gift, an illusion; the third is the product born of the effort and time you invested.


The Ideal Adam


There are many explanations for the contradictory descriptions of Adam in the first and second chapters of Bereishis, but it can be explained clearly and beautifully according to the principle we just established. The ideal and goal of man is to become Godly, to become perfect, all-knowing, all-good, all-kind, to have complete self-control. [9] However, this is the goal, not the starting point. We begin as animalistic beings, with limited intellectual abilities and undeveloped character traits. A baby is selfish, the center of its own world, the only person who exists. This is the exact opposite of Godliness. The goal of life is to become Godly, to go through the process of actualizing our potential, and in doing so, we become a true tzelem Elokim. As we've previously explained, [10] the fetus learns kol ha'Torah kulah in the womb, and then loses it upon being born into this world. We are born imperfect so that we can journey through this world with the mission of becoming perfect, recreating and earning what we once received as a gift. Adam was created first as a perfect being, the model of who we each strive to become, before being reduced to the lowly and animalistic being that we begin our lives as.


Adam and Chava: Creating Oneness


The ideal is for man and wife to be one, bonded in a sublime oneness. Adam and Chava were originally created as literally one being, a physical manifestation of their deeper existential oneness. However, this is the ideal, the destination. Man and wife are not born this way; they are created as two separate beings, with the mission to find each other and create that oneness. Chazal explain that before a man and wife are born, they exist as a single neshama. Only once they are born into the world do they split apart and exist as two distinct beings. The goal is to then travel the world in search of your soul-mate, choose each-other, and recreate that original oneness. Adam and Chava are first created as one - before being split apart - to model the oneness that we strive towards as husband and wife. [11]


The Sun and the Moon


The sun and moon are representative of an entity and its vessel. The goal of a vessel is to fully and loyally contain and project the essence within it, to serve as the medium of revelation for its inner content. [12] A light bulb does not block the light within, it loyally projects it out into the world. This is the ideal as well for the body in its relationship to the soul: the body must carry the soul and serve as its enabler, allowing the spiritual self to manifest correctly into the world. The entire physical world as well should ideally serve as the perfect projection of its spiritual source.


This ideal is modeled in the creation of the sun and moon. While the moon was never equal to the sun in size, it was originally able to fully reflect the light of the sun. The moon destroyed this through the sin of ego, a projection of self that prevented it from fully and properly reflecting the light of the sun. When you assert yourself and your ego, you are unable to reflect anything higher than yourself. As a result, the moon “shrank”, and was no longer able to fully reflect the light of the sun.


This same theme applies to the human body as well. Originally, the body was a clear reflection of the soul. The midrash explains that when you looked at Adam, you did not see his body, you saw his essence, his soul. [13] When you look at a light bulb, all you see is radiant luminescence; only if you look really closely can you make out the vessel which contains the light. This is what Adam’s body was originally like. Once Adam sinned, however, the body fell to its present form, a vessel which hides the soul, not one which loyally projects it.


Every time we say birchas ha'chodesh, we daven for mashiach, where the moon will once again fully reflect the sun, where the physical world will fully reflect the spiritual, where the body will fully reflect the soul. As the Ramchal explains, in the times of techiyas ha'meisim (resurrection of the dead), the body will return to its perfect state, where it can fully reflect all the light and spiritual greatness of the neshama. [14]


Trees Tasting Like the Fruits


A fruit represents the end goal, the destination, the result of a process. A tree represents the process, the stage of growth and becoming. The ideal is for the process, the tree, to be as enjoyable and euphoric as the destination itself, the fruit. However, the world was created in such a way that we do not naturally enjoy the process. Most people do not want to undergo the process of becoming great, they simply want to be great. This impatience causes many to give up on their journey towards greatness.


This theme touches upon something very deep. Olam Habah (the World to Come) is a place of being, a place of endpoint, where you enjoy everything you've built and become in this world. The consciousness and person you create in this world is what you will enjoy in the World to Come. This world (Olam Hazeh), however, is the place of becoming, the place of process, where you create yourself. [15] The goal is to learn how to enjoy the process itself. When you realize that you are creating your eternity, you are able to enjoy the building process as well. This is what it means for the tree to taste like the fruits. The process is just as important as the destination, because you only get to the destination by building your way there. [16] Every part of the process is fundamental, every moment spent correctly becomes eternal. When you know this, you get to live in Olam Habah while still in this world!


Genuine happiness comes from enjoying the process of becoming. [17] You'll never be perfect, but you can always become more perfect. Happiness comes from enjoying the process of becoming your best self, fulfilling your unique purpose in life. The ideal is for the process (tree) to be every bit as sweet as the end result (fruits), but in this world, we must work towards that ideal, it is not a given. It takes choice and willpower to enjoy the journey towards greatness.


Creating the World with Din


This principle - an ideal followed by the starting point - sheds light onto another enigmatic midrash. [18] Chazal explain that originally, Hashem created the world with strict din (justice). In such a world, one would get exactly what they deserved; if they sinned, they would be punished instantaneously. However, Hashem saw that the world could not be sustained with strict justice, so He added rachamim (mercy), enabling people to do teshuva (repentance). This account seems extremely odd.


How can it be that Hashem made a mistake, that He originally wanted to create the world with din, but then changed His mind? One only changes their mind when they receive new information. [19] Is it possible that Hashem did not already know that the world could not survive without rachamim?


The Maharal [20] explains this midrash according to the principle we have developed throughout this chapter. In an ideal world, man would be judged according to absolute truth, absolute din and emes. In such a world, we would receive immediate punishment for any sins, and we would experience a world of clear cause-and-effect. 


However, the purpose of this world is to earn our perfection and build our connection with Hashem, creating our share in Olam Habah (The World to Come). [21] This is built on the concept of din: Justice means that you get what you deserve. Just as we receive our share in Olam Habah because we earned and deserve it, we should also receive full and immediate punishment for our sins, because we earned and deserve it. [22]


However, in such a world, humanity could not survive. [23] This is due to the fact that we need free will in order to earn our share in Olam Habah; [24] and because we have free will, we are likely to sin. [25] And if we were punished with full force the moment we sinned, no one would survive. As a result, humanity needs the ability to do teshuva, without getting punished right away.


And on the flip side, if we were punished the moment we sinned, our free will itself would be diminished. If people knew that the moment they sinned, Hashem would punish them, they would be much less likely to make mistakes. [26]


As a result, Hashem mixed rachamim with strict din.


However, this is not so simple. How can Hashem mix rachamim with din if din appears to be “absolute”, all or nothing?


With din:

  • We get exactly what we deserve
  • We receive it right away
  • There is no way of avoiding the consequences


Rachamim, however, requires non-exactness; it therefore completely contradicts din. You either get exactly what you deserve, or you don’t, there can’t be a middle ground!


But the Ramchal [27] provides an incredible explanation. The beauty of rachamim is that it doesn’t reject din, it creates a harmony (tiferes) which allows for 100% din and 100% rachamim.


With rachamim:

  • We get exactly what we deserve, but not all at once (gradation). This enables us to handle the consequences and keep moving forward. [28]
  • We receive the punishment following the sin, but only if we don’t take advantage of the opportunity for teshuva.
  • We receive the consequences, but if we do teshuva, then retroactively, there are no consequences to receive, as teshuva undoes the damage itself. Once a person does teshuva, they become a different person, and the punishment is no longer necessary or applicable.


This is the unique balance between din and rachamim. [29] When the midrash says that Hashem originally intended to create the world with pure din, that was the ideal, the goal. Hashem then created a world which also contains rachamim, to enable that original vision to come to fruition. It is only through rachamim that we are able to utilize the middah of din and earn our share in Olam Habah. Once Hashem added rachamim to the world, the world itself became our “rechem” (womb). [30] We are all individual fetuses developing in Hashem’s womb. [31]


The Process of Life


This is the process of life. The ideal is revealed, taken away, and then remains as our goal as we journey through life, trying to recreate that ideal. The key is to be inspired by the goal, not discouraged by the struggle. We must understand that our goal is to become godly, fully reflect our higher selves, create oneness, and enjoy every single step of the process!


[1] Bereishis 1:27.

[2] Bereishis 2:7.

[3] Bereishis 1:27.

[4] Bereishis 2:22.

[5] Bereishis 1:16.

[6] See Rashi- Bereishis 1:16.

[7] Bereishis 1:11.

[8] See Rashi- Bereishis 1:11.

[9] For more on the underlying goal of life and the purpose of achieving greatness, see chapter on Parshas Tetzaveh.

[10] See previous chapter on Parshas Mishpatim; see also chapter on Parshas Bereishis.

[11] See chapter on Parshas Terumah where Rav Dessler explains the mechanism of creating oneness and love between people. See also the chapter on Parshas Emor, where this topic is discussed in relation to marriage.

[12] See chapter on Parshas Toldos for more on the relationship between the essence (ikar) and the vessel (tafel). See also chapter on Parshas Vayeitzei for further discussion on this topic, in regards to the relationship between Yaakov and Esav.

[13] See chapter on Parshas Mikeitz for more on this topic.

[14] Derech Hashem- 1:3:13.

[15] For more on this topic, see chapter on Parshas Vayakhel.

[16] From this perspective, one can actually enjoy the process just as much as (if not more than) arriving at the goal itself.

[17] For more on the topic of happiness, see chapter on Parshas Bechukosai. For more on the importance of  the journey, see chapter on Parshas Masei.

[18] See Rashi, Bereishis 1:1.

[19] For example, you would change your mind if you originally decided not to go to the store on Monday, because you thought it was closed on Mondays, but then later found out that the store was, in fact, open on Mondays.

[20] Gur Aryeh, Bereishis 1:1.

[21] Seee chapter on Parshas Tetzaveh for a fully detailed explanation of this principle.

[22] In truth, our share in Olam Habah is actually built off of chesed (kindness). Through chesed, Hashem gives us the ability to earn our share in Olam Habah. Thus, the principle of din, of earning our Olam Habah, actually rests on the foundation of chesed. (Olam chesed yibaneh- the world is built on chesed).

[23] This is the explanation behind the 974 generations that we created and destroyed before Adam (Chagiga 13b). They ceased to exist the moment they were created. The moment a person is brought into existence, their first thought is “I”, a thought of ego. Without rachamim, even the slightest thought of sin would cause a person to cease to exist, even the slightest thought of ego would remove a person from this world. This is because all of sin is rooted in ego, which is the concept avodah zarah- the failure to properly source your existence back to Hashem, the root of reality. According to pure din, the consequence -  the pure middah kineged midah (measure for measure) – for not sourcing yourself back to Hashem would be for the connection between you and Hashem to cease to exist. For if one does not recognize Hashem as the continuous source of their existence, their existence should cease to continue. Thus, when the 974 generations had even the slightest hint of sinful, ego-driven thoughts, they ceased to exist.

[24] See chapter on Parshas Tetzaveh.

[25] The very existence of free will allows for the possibility (and likelihood) of sin.

[26] Imagine getting struck by lightning the moment we sinned. We would be a lot less likely to make mistakes. But this would also seriously weaken our free will.

[27] Mesilas Yesharim, Chapter 4.

[28] For example, instead of receiving the brute force of giant boulder, the boulder will be broken up into many smaller pebbles and a small child will throw them at him one at a time.

[29] And is the greatest paradigm of chesed, din, and tiferes.

[30] Rechem has the same root as rachamim.

[31] See Niddah 30b.


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