Chao vs Order, Void Vs Fullness, Light Vs Darkness…Choose!
In Genesis 1:2, we find a very important element in the story of creation: תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ “tohu v’vohu” translated as “unformed and void” or chaos. Not long ago, I watched a video of a group of young people whose goal was to destroy anything and everything in their path. They rebelled against any code of dress, against ethics and decent behavior toward others; in other words, it was as if they were saying, there is no God so we can do whatever we please and there is no stopping us. There was no desire to build, only to tear down. Isn’t this exactly what is happening in the Middle East and spreading around the world, where terrorists, enemies of Israel and the God of Israel are wreaking havoc and chaos? By contrast, in Bereshit, we read that our Creator began to create order out of chaos.
The verse continues: “…darkness was over the face of the deep” and God said, “…let there be “ohr” light’. God spoke light into existence from the very beginning. Light would illuminate the darkness – not just in a physical sense but also spiritual as we see next – “…and a wind from God, (Ruach Elohim), the Spirit of God sweeping over the waters.”
So what do we have so far?…chaos vs order, void vs fullness, light vs darkness. God created them all and we could stop right here and explain everything that is going wrong with the world today in just these first two verses in the Torah.
Let’s compare Isaiah 42: 5 – 7 with Bereshit: “Thus said the LORD God who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and what comes out of it, who gives breath ( Ruach) to the people on it, and spirit (Ruach) to those who walk in it: I, the LORD have called you in justice, and held your hand, strengthened you, and gave you a covenant of the people, to be “ohr l’goyim”, light to the nations; to open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon.” Isaiah asks: Who is blind but My servants or as deaf as My messenger whom I sent?” (42:19)
When we sit in darkness, we are blind to everything around us. The peoples of the world are drowning in ideologies that blind them to the simple truths laid down for all humanity in the Torah. Our Torah is not a complicated series of books replete with rigid rules and regulations, with revenge and asceticism, rather it is a book filled with pictures, allegories and stories, handed to a simple yet Chosen People by our Creator through Moses so that we could know how to live in peace and harmony on this gift of a planet and we were to bring it to all the peoples of the earth. It’s a book of love and respect for others, not of forcing people into submission through fear and sheer hatred.
Our prophet Isaiah cries out to us from the past reminding us that God gave us a Covenant so that we could be “ohr l’goyim”, light to the nations, to open their blind eyes and set the captives free from prison. Having been prisoners in Egypt we could relate, and we were told to never forget that we were once captives. The Pesach story read at our Seders every year for thousands of years remains the pattern of events for future generations to learn how the one and only God revealed Himself to the foreign nation as He set us free. He then handed His Covenant to our people, who by living them and sharing them with the world, would become a wise nation and a light to all humanity.
But are we doing that today? Do we say yes, O God, we want Your Torah, or do we prefer our books, our ways, our ideas, our sages, and our gods? And so the world remains lost in blindness, which is now turned to Sinat Chinam, free hatred. Then we cry out, “Why is God doing this to us”? As our rabbi used to say, “God doesn’t punish us; we punish ourselves.” God wants us to turn back to Him…not to trust in our own strength and capabilities, but to know that He will make us strong when the Torah goes forth from Jerusalem as we go forth into battle; God Himself will go to battle alongside with us as He has done so often in our history and as we read in all the stories in our Tanach. But whenever we go into battle without Him, we lose. It’s easy to blame God for our suffering; then we don’t have to take responsibility for behavior.
Let’s look at responsibility from the story of Adam and Eve here in Bereshit. Our rabbi taught us that according to our sages, Adam was originally a hermaphrodite, male and female in one body. God said that it was not good for man to be alone. The word, man in Hebrew is “Ish” and woman – Isha (taken from man). The Hebrew understanding of “rib” means “side” and so God put the man to sleep and separated the two sides, male and female, forming man’s kenegdo, a “suitable” companion for him.
Adam was given the role of custodian and protector of all God’s creation, including the woman who was the “crown of His creation”. For years, Adam had nothing to worry about; life was great until one day the snake (nachash) appeared on the scene. At the time that this allegory was written, the snake already had a reputation for being a cunning creature who was able to speak. It understood that the woman had a more complex, curious nature than the man; she liked to look good, to be accepted, and thirsted for a higher level of spiritual knowledge and so it tempted Eve with “if you eat the fruit … you too shall be like God.” Adam wouldn’t have cared but Eve fell for it, ate the fruit and not wanting to be alone, convinced Adam to eat it too. What was Adam’s failure? He didn’t protect her. He could have stopped her, but he didn’t and her feminine wiles combined with his weakness caused the fall of all humanity. The Torah teaches us so much about ourselves.
Then Adam heard the voice of God calling, “Adam, where are you?” Didn’t the Creator know where Adam was? Here is the key: God gives us the opportunity to come clean, to acknowledge our failures. True teshuva is taught right here, at the very beginning. God asked Adam: “Why are you hiding?” He said, “Because I was naked” (he was ashamed.) God asked.” How do you know you are naked?” The patience of our Creator is amazing.
Adam’s answer was “The woman you gave me, she gave it to me and I ate.” Adam blamed God and the woman. Isn’t that so typical of us when we are trying to cover our shame? We haven’t changed much since then; we still blame others for what we do instead of taking responsibility. Eve did the same thing when she was confronted, blaming God and the snake.
What was the root of the problem when Adam said that he was naked? Our rabbi explained that Adam felt “shame” rather than “guilt”. What is the difference between shame and guilt? Shame is measured by how we think others see us. Maybe we didn’t accomplish what others expected from us and we feel embarrassed because we didn’t live up to their expectations so we hide to avoid shame.
Guilt, however, happens when we do something that we know in advance is wrong but we don’t pay attention to the warning signals. It’s a gut feeling. Adam’s mistake was that he never admitted his guilt to God. Hiding it or covering up guilt never removes it, rather it follows us throughout our lives until we finally acknowledge what we did to God, and to ourselves and wherever possible make things right to those we’ve hurt.
Shame comes from being more interested in how we appear outwardly than in truly having a change of heart. In this cosmetic society in which we live, most of us try to appear as being someone or something that we are not; but we can’t fool God; He knows us better than we know ourselves and He weighs our hearts. No cosmetics can cover the heart and there’s no escape from God until we make things right. He is teaching us to have integrity, to be right with ourselves, with Him, and with those around us, rather than simply trying to look good to others who may not even know or care about us. Guilt on the other hand when it turns to conviction can lead to healing.
Last week while we were celebrating Shemini Atzeret, the most joyful of the High Holidays, the terrorist organization Hamas, (meaning “violence” in the next story of Noah,) began to “rain” terror upon the State of Israel. They weren’t looking to build or make life better for the people of Gaza; their goal was to create chaos out of their blind hatred of Israel. This Sinat Chinam is a spirit of darkness in total opposition to Ruach Elohim, the Spirit of light. All week I have been watching social media and the various news channels to see what has been unfolding in Israel and now around the world as hatred for the Jews is spreading once again. My heart is breaking and I am filled with mixed emotions of anger, deep sadness, and even revenge; I question how this could happen in a country whose wall is ironclad and whose army and intelligence are the best in the world. As my heart cries out to my Bore Olam for understanding, I turn to the Torah and that’s when blindness turns to sight and questions are answered.
It’s not a coincidence that we are at the beginning again, Bereshit, because that is exactly where God’s people need to go to look for answers. Nowhere else. Just the Torah. The world is blaming Israel, God’s messenger like Adam blamed God. The world’s shame for what it did to God’s Chosen People after the Holocaust is like Adam’s shame for what he did. It could not be hidden for long because it wasn’t an admission of guilt in which they took responsibility and had a change of heart.
But the truth is that every one of us is betraying the Bore Olam and He is hiding His face from us and we, His creation are left to face the consequences of what we are doing to each other. We all need to stop, to remember and do what we told God at the base of Mount Sinai when Moses received His Ten Commandments…”All that You said we will do”!
Every time you and I do anything that goes against His Torah, we are to blame and there are spiritual and physical consequences. We are responsible. And if we don’t know what’s in His Torah…then let’s read it. It’s for all humanity. The entire world is to blame right now, but the good news is that change begins within each of us, no matter where we live.
When we are faithful to our God, no outside enemy can touch us as King Solomon wrote in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “…if my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
He continues in verses 13 -14 and 16: The LORD shall go forth as a mighty man, He will stir up his fury like a man of war; He will cry, yes, He will shout aloud, He will prove Himself mighty against His enemies. 14 I have long time held My peace, I have been still, and refrained Myself; now I will shriek like a woman in labor, gasping and panting. 16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, I will lead them in paths that they did not know; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them. I am the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.