Rabbi Simcha Weinberg-Genesis-The Second Verse
Recorded 26 October 1999 at the home of Ms. Nora Shaykin-Copyright, © 1999 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg-Transcribed by Daniel Goldman: Let’s review some basic concepts. We first discussed the impossibility of understanding the first chapter of Genesis. That’s assuming that we can understand the other chapters in Genesis, or the entire Torah, for that matter. We then focused on the letter bet, and how this letter really represents the relationship between the primary being (which, at this point, we don’t know who or what that being is) and God. Third, we explained how when we say “In the beginning,” or as Rashi reads it, “In the beginning of the Lord’s creation of the Heavens and the Earth,” the beginning refers to the beginning of time. Time did not exist before. As the 4th principle of faith reads, God is the only Kadmon, the only first being. I believe that we’ve spoken about Aristotle who said that since God is a creator, by definition matter had to always exist. However, we believe that God is the only Kadmon.
We explained that barah is generally understood as being ex nihilo. (This is like whenever you’re having an argument with somebody – you’re creating something from nothing.) The Vilna Gaon says that barah is a primary being, not necessarily ex nihilo. It means that when you remove other creations, this being will still be there. We said that the words “Eit ha’Shamayim v’eit ha’Aretz” refers to two different creations. We must keep this in mind. When the Torah speaks of the Heavens, it is referring to the fact that there was a creation of the spiritual world, consisting of two parts –the Angels and the Transcendental Forces. Remember, however, that the spiritual world was created. Therefore it exists with no less truth than physical existance. “Eit ha’Aretz” refers to physical creation and the world as we know it.
Now we’re going to discuss in the second verse where we delineate the line between the heavens and earth. Again, the heavens are the spiritual world, which has two parts, the Angels and the Transcendental Forces. We’ve explained many times how these forces are really going to be the system that allows our free choice to function.
Q: Could you explain a bit more about the transcendental forces?
RSW: These were forces that were created in the spiritual world. For example, there is a force that is in charge of all trees. There is a force beneath it that is in charge of all cedar trees. There is another one that is in charge of all oak trees. These forces are again divided. . Each tree will have an Angel. Each human being also has an Angel. In fact, according to the Midrash, each and every blade of grass has its own Angel. There already, you understand that in the creation of the spiritual world, the groundwork has been laid for a life of meaning, and a life of free choice.
We also discussed the fact that it is necessary to understand that we must deal with creation with two entirely different perspectives. The first must be a creation that has a system, a structure. We exist within that system. For example, the Transcendental Forces are a creation of a system. This system is what allows our choices to matter. But our choices matter only within the system of the spiritual world. That is why it is a created world. The system was established so that we can experience the meaning of our choices. Therefore, if we sin, we send up influences to the Divine forces and those Divine forces then reflect that evil influence around us. The more severe the sin, the higher up it goes and the more broad its impact on the world. But that is a system. That’s where our choices exist.
Remember, however, that the spiritual world does not include God. When you deal with God as God is, then you are dealing with a God that knows everything that you are going to do. But we don’t exist in sphere yet. We have the possibility of existing in it, though. The highest level of soul that a human being has is Yechida, which means unified. This state of being will only be in the world to come, a.k.a. the world that came.
But there are other ways within our reach to preempt the system, and make it impossible for the negative parts of the system to work at all. For example, if I never accuse anyone of anything, then I can never be accused, because part of the system is that I can create a reality. So if am someone who you can verbally abuse, and will never fight back, no one can accuse me of anything, and no accusing Angel can accuse me of anything. In this way, I am circumventing the entire system that allows me to work. I can then deal directly with God.
It is possible to achieve this during prayer. The prayer book that we have is all within the system. That’s why it is called a Siddur, meaning order. Once one prays with one’s heart, and tears are shed, then one can circumvent the system and address God directly. That’s when prayer creates an entirely new reality. That’s what we mean in the portion of Toldot when the Torah describes Isaac’s prayer as a pitchfork. With a pitchfork, you lift up the hay, and flip it over. A tzaddik has the ability, as we all do, to literally use prayer as a pitchfork. That takes tremendous power. That person has to be someone who is aware of this reality beyond the system. That’s what we mean when we say God is the only being with real existance.
Obviously, this is not functional on a daily basis. That’s why you have a debate that began most seriously between the Mitnagdim and the Chasidim about whether this world is ours, or not. Were we born to observe Halacha, which means that this is God’s world, and the Halacha is there to teach us how to function in that world; or is the world ours and the mitzvot were created to help us use this world to achieve something else? In the view of the Mitnagdim, we were created. The world doesn’t belong to you and if you want to live in this world, you must do the mitzvot. How you do the mitzvot will get you into Olam Habah. The other opinion is here – the world is yours – use it. Be creative. You want to know how to be creative? Do the mitzvot. You want to avoid being destructive? Keep the negative commandments.
That’s why Luzzato is so careful when he says, “A man’s obligation in his world.” That is to say, in our world. His whole philosophy is based on that. That’s why he focuses more on the concept of free choice more than any other philosopher does. Again, this comes from someone who is functioning within the system. The Path of the Just is actually a guide to develop up to a point at which you can circumvent the system entirely. You can cry up from your heart, and circumvent. You can learn so intensely that you block out everything around you, and in that moment, circumvent the system. You can use Shabbat the proper way and you can go beyond human existance. You will find that the higher your Shabbat, certain evil inclinations, subtle, but very powerful feelings will appear just to prevent you from circumventing the system. (“It’s so beautiful to watch you daven.”) There you go. You’re dead. You had a great Shabbat, but you’re back within the system because you’re dealing with this world. (“Would you like to hear something? I want to tell you what I heard during davening!”) The greater your Shabbat, the more those will appear.
All of this has to do with the line between Heaven and Earth. Understand. We all agree that Aretz is a created state. But Shamayim is also created. It is not God. God is not physical and God is not spiritual. That is the third of the Thirteen Principles of Faith. All this New Age stuff has nothing to do with God. Achieving the balance between the spiritual and physical worlds will allow someone within the system to find God.
Mordechai Balus: You are speaking about circumventing the system. In some ways it’s good to circumvent the system. But then you said that if someone is irate at you, you keep quiet, in that respect. Why do you keep quiet?
RSW: Because you are above it.
MB: Not because you decide to keep quiet?
RSW: Yes, you decide to keep quiet. I’m telling you – it feels great!
MB: In other words, it’s good to do that. I am getting confused.
RSW: Well, it depends. If you do it because of intimidation, it’s not good. If you say to yourself, “Well that’s his problem, not me,” or, “I’m not going to get upset,” that’s what we’re talking about. This is like King David. When Shimi ben Gerah cursed him, David wasn’t concerned. (“If God wants me cursed, I’ll be cursed.”) He held no personal resentment towards Shimi. Of course, he orders him to be executed later, but that wasn’t personal.
We then spoke about the balance between the physical and spiritual worlds, and how important it is to achieve that balance. Now we are up to the second verse. I know we’re going a bit quickly, but otherwise we’ll be on the first verse forever – unless you’re willing to!
Do you know where any of these concepts are found in Tefillah? Where do we find the creation of time? We find it in the first blessing before the evening Sh’ma in Ma’ariv.
MB: First darkness and then light?
RSW: That’s right! It’s all about the creation of time. Where do we speak about the balance between heaven and earth? – In Kedusha, where we’re able to join with the Angels and praise God.
MB: So the interplay between God and light is creation?
“And the earth was shocking to look at, but filled with potential (or, very confused,) and darkness was on the face of the depths. And the spirit of the Lord was hovering on the face of the water.” Seem a pretty clear verse doesn’t it?
MB: You were saying just before that God isn’t spiritual. Yet the verse is speaking of “the spirit of God!”
RSW: We’ll find out! It’s a good point.
Rashi says that when you look at something that is tohu, you are shocked. (Like in the morning before you wash your face and brush your hair!) Rashi says that u’vohu is total emptiness and confusion.
Nora Shaykin: How can emptiness be confusing?
RSW: It really means astounding. Like a black hole. There are those who theorize that this is describing a black hole. If you ever read the Lensmen series, you would know.
MB: We are still talking as if there is a mass of something still there.
RSW: Yes. According to whom? Let’s figure it out.
MB: I’m asking about the aretz. Is that the land?
RSW: We will figure that out according to Rashi. Remember, any study of chumash has to begin with Rashi.
“And darkness was on the face of the depths.” Meaning, it was over the water that was on the earth. There was darkness. What picture do you have now? Let’s pretend the earth is flat. We have earth, water, and darkness, which can be understood as space, or gravity.
“And the spirit of the Lord was hovering on the face of the water.” This ‘face’ has appeared twice, has it not? Let’s see how Rashi explains “the spirit of the Lord.” Rashi says that the Throne of Glory was standing in the air, and was floating over the water, while air was coming out God’s mouth. In other words, God was keeping His Throne over the water by blowing down. (When you were a kid, did you ever try that?) Then Rashi adds one word that can change things for us. “God’s speech.” That is to say, the “spirit of the Lord” doesn’t refer to God’s spirit necessarily, but to God’s speech.
But we still don’t know what that means. Remember: this is the beginning of the beginning, so it’s going to be an even bigger challenge to understand what is going on here. Rashi then quotes a Gemara from Chaggigah. “This is like a dove who circles over her nest.” Note that the Gemara doesn’t say a bird. It says a dove. Think now. Earth, water, dove. What do you have? – Noah’s Ark. It’s interesting. You have an Ark, and the ark is floating on top of the water, which in turn is on top of the ground.
It is interesting that Rashi chose a dove here, as if he wants us to compare it to the flood, and to look towards the flood in order to understand God’s hovering over the water. Usually when we say a dove is hovering over its nest, what is it doing? – It’s protecting it! That would mean that what Rashi is describing here is that God is hovering over the earth in order to protect it. May I ask you a question? – From what?
Mrs. Sonnenberg: Maybe since the world was just created, it wasn’t set yet in its final form, and God wanted to make sure everything was going OK.
RSW: Do you really think God was worried? How could God be worried? He doesn’t know how to create this stuff? He created it unstable.
Mrs. S: Perhaps His final plan wasn’t secure yet?
RSW: He was secure. We are going to be making certain assumptions about God as we study Genesis. But you were so close to the answer.
MB: You were talking about gravity before. God is acting as the force of gravity. God’s hovering is the darkness. God was acting as the protection. Gravity keeps everything down. Otherwise the water would fly off the face of the earth. (Long pause.) Am I stretching it?
RSW: As we said last week, none of us can really understand the chumash in the absolute sense. You have to ask yourself whether it is clear to you. Does it sound like the truth? And if it is the truth, what does it teach us. But you were so close! It is inconceivable that God didn’t think it through. Can I tell you why?
NS: Can I? I think that when a dove hovers over her nest, it not just to protect her young, but its because she loves them.
RSW: And, to nurture them!
We first have this image of protection, and here we have an image of nurturing. If we put them together, we have a beautiful idea. Your question is, why would G-d protect the earth, and from what would He protect it? Then you said, unless it was very unstable. The only way it would be unstable was for God to choose to create the world unstable. This is the first stage in the separation of God from the physical world. This allows the physical world free choice. In this stage, the earth is like “my child, my creation, is becoming more independent, but I will hover over her.” This very much like when your child says, “OK, I want to walk to the mailbox myself!” “Oh you’re such a big boy or big girl! Of course you can!” But you’re peeking out the window the whole time, right?
This is the first step of independence. Yes, it’s unstable, and deliberately so. We will soon see that from now on, God addresses His creations as separate from Himself. God speaks to the earth. God speaks to the heavens. This is the first stage at which God’s creation is becoming another. God then hovers over it to protect it. That’s why you have confusion and shock. It’s totally unstable. That’s also why you have darkness. What is darkness always a metaphor of? – Evil, because it doesn’t have the light of God in it. It means that God’s face is not showing, and is not manifest.
Q: In God’s pulling away, doesn’t He lose a certain amount of control?
RSW: God does not lose control. When God relinquishes control, it means He allows us to manipulate things, but He can re-assert that control at any moment. Remember that there are two systems. Within the system, God can relinquish control, but there is still an absolute all around it. That is to say, God is the only being that truly exists; everything else is in a constant state of creation. Or in other words, God is outside the system. Free choice is within the system. This is the system in which we have to function, grow, develop ourselves, master ourselves, and learn how to attach ourselves to God.
Q: I’m confused about the difference between the two systems.
RSW: Indeed, that is the confusion! How do you deal with there being two systems? On the one hand, you’re telling me you are independent and have free choice. On the other hand, you are telling me that God has total, absolute control. Anyway, God knows everything that going to happen. Isn’t that the issue? Recall how we left off in the first verse. There is a balance that is necessary between the creation of the spiritual and physical worlds, and part of what is necessary for both creations is the withdrawal. Both these systems have to operate in a whole new way. According to Ramban, that is the Big Bang.
Mrs. S: I still have this thought, however, that perhaps God had a plan but wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out.
RSW: How could God not be sure?
Mrs. S: Because it hadn’t been done before.
RSW: But you are mistaken, with all due respect. You are thinking as a human being. A human being thinks past, present, and future. Past, present, and future do not apply to God. What happened 100 years ago is happening now. What is happening now will happen 100 years from now. There is no difference from God’s perspective.
Mrs. S: The reason why I thought that is because after each day, the Torah says that “God saw that it was good.” If God is all-knowing, He would have known in advance that it was so. The Torah wouldn’t have to say it.
RSW: I would say two things. (Smiling) What would you do if during class one of your students read one or two paragraphs ahead and then was confused and couldn’t follow the lesson? But seriously, this is something that has to be worked through very carefully. You definitely get that impression – You, me, and everyone else. “God looked and saw that it was good,” certainly implies that before God looked he didn’t know. So let’s figure it out. If we accept at this point that Genesis means that God created time, it means that God exists beyond time. As applied to God, there is no past, present, or future. By virtue of this fact, God knows everything that happened and everything that will happen, because it is part of a reality. It’s all part of a whole.
Mrs. Rosen: What bothers me is that we are applying human terms to God. We are all finite beings.
RSW: We discuss God anthropomorphically.
However, to return to our discussion, there is the system and there is beyond the system. Within the system, how could any of us possibly say that we understand anything about God? In Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, the first five have to do with God. These principles were derived by a human being. Moreover, if God is infinite, how could we have a Torah? (“You understand the Torah, yes; but it is a human being’s understanding of the Torah!” I hear that spiel all the time.) We therefore have to understand that God provided us with everything to function within the system with clarity and commitment. Is it dealing with God, as God is? No. This world is not an expression of God, as God is. It is an expression of God, as God willed God’s self to be manifested. We deal with God, as God chooses to be manifested within the system. However, dealing with God, as God is, is beyond the system. That’s where Kabbalah takes you. It explains the system, and through it, it provides you with what surrounds the system. This, by the way, is the “spirit of God hovering on the face of the waters.”
Dr. Sonnenberg: I understand that there were other worlds that were created besides our own. Is that right?
RSW: Yes. If you look at Rabbeinu Bachaya on this week’s parsha, you will find a description of the fifty worlds that will ultimately exist. It will only be the fiftieth world that will be perfect. Ours is the 38th. The previous thirty-seven were already destroyed. They are waiting for Olam Habah, just as we will, until the 50th world goes through its cycle.
Cheryl Sandler: If God is infinite, are we any less significant?
RSW: No, because we function within a system. You are no less important. God is infinite. Whether God is dealing with a billion people, a trillion people, or a googol of people, it doesn’t matter. Once you’re infinite, it’s all the same. As for being special, we only want to be special for ourselves. We drive ourselves crazy trying to be special. The idea isn’t to be special, it is to make ourselves special. This idea of needing to be special is such an important and powerful idea. You’re special to your Mommy, your Daddy; they brought you into this world. But you’re even more special to God. OK, you don’t believe it, because if you did, you’d never be upset, never be sad, and would never be intimidated. (“God has a special connection with me, you think you can intimidate me?) It’s just that we don’t believe it. And since we don’t really believe it, we have to work on ourselves to make ourselves special. The Creator of the Universe loves you a billion times more than your Mom and Dad. Do you feel good? It makes me feel like I’m walking on a cloud.
Q: Are there any other opinions besides Miamonides’ principles of faith?
RSW: There are those who disagree with Rambam’s principles of faith. Rambam says if you believe God has a body, then you’re a heretic. Raavad asks, “What are you talking about? People believe it. The Torah sets them up to believe it, because the Torah speaks of God in anthropomorphic terms.” So how could Rambam say that? The famous Brisker answer is: Yes he is an apikoris, but we don’t hold it against him. It means that you can’t serve God this way. Look up the Malbim on this week’s parsha, when Abraham was in the land of the Philistines. He says to Avimelech, “There is no awe of God in this place.”
Let’s finish Rashi’s approach. How did the darkness appear? – When God withdrew. Therefore, what was there first? We say with regard to God’s Creation, in the morning prayers, “Who formed light and created darkness.” The Vilna Gaon reads it as creating a reality, where darkness would be there unless you had light. In other words, forming is to take something from somewhere else and make something from it.
MB: How did God create darkness?
RSW: The Vilna Gaon said that He created a reality in which darkness is the most basic thing unless something else appears. Remember. The Vilna Gaon doesn’t consider darkness as being created. He doesn’t understand beriah as creation. Rather, he sees it as if you would remove everything else, what would there be? – Darkness. Why? You are removing God’s presence. We will get to other commentaries.
So here in our verse, we have the four elements. They are, “the earth” which, of course is Earth; “darkness,” which is the symbol of Fire (we will explain why); “the spirit of God,” which is Wind; and “on the face of the waters,” which refers to Water. Please remember that we spoke of the two parts of creation, the physical and spiritual worlds. In the same way as the physical world has four basic elements, there are also four corresponding basic elements in the spiritual world, the spiritual counterparts of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. These four spiritual elements, the Spiritual Earth, the Spiritual Wind, the Spiritual Fire, and Spiritual Water, are what we know as midot, or personal attributes. Therefore, the only way to really achieve balance, and reach into the spiritual world is to work on one’s midot. Without doing so, then a mitzva performed remains physical and does not create spiritual reality.
Cheryl Sandler: So we have to be aware of which midot are represented by which element.
RSW: That’s correct.
What I want to work on next week with you is exactly that. What I’d like you all to do is for you to think about it on your own.