“Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.”
Life is lived in the lyrics of musicals, it’s true. Ok, it’s true for me, but this lyric from perhaps one of my less-favorite songs/scenes in “Sound of Music” rings true for this week’s parasha, Bereshit (Genesis).
It is the beginning, so we read, “When God was creating Heaven and Earth, the earth was chaos, unformed, and on the chaotic waters’ face there was darkness.”(Gen 1:1) Read that carefully. There were things in existence before Creation. The earth was there, though it was chaotic. Water was there, and it was chaotic, too. And,of course, God was there. The rabbis were well aware of the existence before Creation. One midrash says the world was created with the letter “bet” because it’s closed on three sides, and only open in the direction of moving forward. Therefore, we should focus on what was created in our time and place, and not investigate what’s above the heavens, below the earth, or before the six days. (Gen Rabbah, 1:10) Rabbi Gamliel said that the “tohu v’vohu” (chaos, void) was created by God, too, riffing off of Proverb 8:24, “When there were no depths, I created them.”
So, is what God did really more of a re-arranging of the cosmic furniture that was already there? What’s creation, then? We talk about people having creativity, but are they creating something out of nothing, or are they working with materials already in existence? I know from experience that musical creativity comes from having mastered the “instrument” enough to go to new places, and visual art still requires the materials with which to create something. The creative actor needs words, character, and imagination. God had imagination; the Creativity to do something new with what was at hand. Does the fact that there were things in existence before the “beginning” make what came next less awesome? I think not.
God had at the ready the raw materials needed for the vision to come to frution. God had earth and water and something sky-like, and from that, God created life, the kind of life that would be sustained and could grow beyond the beginning. Chaos became creation. God differentiated what was already there, and revealed, or maybe released, the wonder that was trapped inside.
There is so much trapped inside us, so much ready to be released. But we have to calm the face of the chaotic waters first, and that is so difficult, at least for me. There’s no lack of chaos, but there is a dearth of time and silence and opportunity to hover over the waters and see what could be. That’s what Shabbat is for. No matter how you experience Shabbat, know that it’s that chance to make order out of the chaos in your mind, heart, or soul.