Sunday, October 25, 2020

After Elul and the High Holidays, Parshat Bereishit comes along with its renewal: A new cycle of Torah reading, A new world emerges out of chaos, and man is about to be created. Endless potential, full of awe and wonder.

“And God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...”

The world of Midrash is tumultuous in the face of these words. To whom does God turn? What is the meaning of the call “let’s create” in the plural? We grew up on the notion that God is turning to the angels, His Heavenly entourage, a Divine court where the virtues and considerations that make up the world, are voiced through spiritual beings who represent them:

“When God was about to create humans, the angels formed themselves into parties, some of them saying, ‘Let him be created,’ while others urged, ‘let him not be created.’ Chesed said, ‘Let him be created, he will dispense acts of lovingkindness.’ Truth said, ‘Don’t create him, he is full of lies!’ Justice said, ‘Let him be created, he will seek justice.’ Peace said, ‘Don’t create him, he is full of strife.’”


Imagine if you were brought as an expert witness or a juror to this Heavenly debate. The prosecutor would show you in fast motion, a digest of human history. The depths of evil it has reached, the abysses of malevolence—you too would sigh and say, “Better he not be created.”

The defense would then bring contrary evidence: moments of extreme sacrifice and kindness, everyday ongoing grace and care, peaks of creativity, of cooperation, advances in medicine, technology, legislation...

It would probably not be enough to erase the impression of the horrors you had just seen. But God did not serve in these proceedings as an objective judge. God acted as an interested party. He took a deep interest in this problematic creature, for his struggles, failures, and achievements. God wanted him.

This year I walk with a new understanding:

God says, “Let us make man” and addresses us, mankind. He calls on us to turn this flesh and blood, endowed with life, into a human being.

Imagine Michelangelo’s statue “The Slave.” It’s a sculpture, partially carved, in which a human figure is seen, half sculpted, trying to get out of the marble it’s carved of, to break free and discover itself. Part man, part clod. Think of that image as you read the following description, based on Rabbi Shlomo Wilk’s introduction to Rabbi Kook’s Orot HaTeshuva: The Jewish people have historically stood as a sculptor holding a scalpel trying to carve in stone the man hiding within it. The person hiding in the stone does not always know he is being looked for, sometimes he prefers to stay in stone rather than be discovered. He is often convinced that he has already discovered himself, and no more burdensome stone remains. This process of carving shapes every aspect of the living and inanimate world.

Secretly, without our knowing, God also stands and carves, continuing to create a world out of stone—a world we call names and give meaning to. Through teshuva—that preceded Creation itself—man returns to his nature and returns to God.

The Jewish description of Creation is an endless process, continuous and renewing, in which God turns to man, offering him a partnership in creation, in processes of completion and repairing. God invites man to take part, to bear responsibility, to participate with Him in creation. Discovering, developing, and protecting his world, his society, himself.

Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel is Yoetzet Halacha and Senior Scholar at Nishmat, and Head of Hilcheta advanced Halacha studies at Matan. She is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).