NiSh’ma: HavdilBy :
In the initial days of creation, God employs separation as a means of creating the foundation of the natural world, separating light from darkness and the upper world from the lower. These two distinctions are fundamental in creating the physical world in which we live and the concept of time (night and day) that governs our existence in it.
Soon thereafter, God creates humanity in God’s own image to be stewards of the land and all that lives on it, and to partner with God in completing the work of Creation. Humanity arrives into a world made orderly through the distinction of light from dark, and made chaotic by the sprouting and calling forth of life.
Though part of the legacy of being created in God’s image is imitating God’s drive to neatly assign things to one category or another, the world we inhabit is one of blurriness. Light and darkness fold into each other, each encroaching on the domain of the other. As Rabbi Reuben Zellman writes in Siddur Sha’ar Zahav, we are twilight people, sitting at the junctions of time and place, a mixture of light and dark, neither one nor the other, but both. As we continue the holy work of partnering with God in Creation, I hope that the blurriness serves as a source of inspiration and blessing, to be embraced rather than disentangled.
NiSh’ma: HavdilBy :
“The Havdalah candle must have at least two wicks.” (Shulchan Aruch 298:2)
Rabbi Becky Silverstein writes beautifully of the tension between distinction and blurriness that characterizes our lives. Jewish thinkers throughout the generations were fascinated by this tension. They celebrated the act of clarifying muddled circumstances and organizing them into rigorously distinct, ethically sound realities. But the Zohar (Mishpatim 95a) states that, just as two people can truly relate only when they are each individuated, the Jewish obsession with distinction exists for the sake of connection.
What happens when we apply this tension to interpersonal and intergroup relations? When Avraham was told by God to circumcise himself and his household, he immediately asked his three closest non-Jewish friends for advice. “Should I listen to God’s command, marking my family as different from others, different from you?” (Midrash Tanchuma Vayera 3)
Why did Avraham do this? Because he wanted to send a message to his friends that, although he would indeed bear the sign of the covenant — a distinctive path, a separate destiny — he was not doing so in order to renounce his links to others. Rather, he was saying to his friends, “I must become different, but my difference will exist in order for me to bring blessing to you. By walking my unique path, I am not leaving you behind; I am becoming myself. Once I am truly myself, I can be in deeper relationship with you.” Perhaps this is why a Havdalah candle must have at least two wicks — to remind us of the concept of relationship, even in this moment of separation.
In a time of struggle and confusion about particular identities and universal concerns, this teaching can guide us toward unity without uniformity in human relations.
NiSh’ma: HavdilBy :
Rabbi Becky Silverstein is right that our holy texts show us that Judaism loves to separate the world into binaries and then to break them. In Genesis 1, God speaks light into being, proclaims it good, and separates it from the darkness. In Isaiah 45, God is praised for “forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating evil.” Which is it? Is God the creator of only that which is good and light? Or, is God the creator of everything, even that which we may fear (darkness) or despise (evil)?
Each morning, we praise God with a censored version of Isaiah: We give thanks to God for “forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating everything.” In mentioning that God creates everything, we affirm God’s radical role in creating good and evil.
What led to this liturgical choice? Perhaps, God finds light even where we can see only darkness. God finds good even when we see only evil. “Darkness is not dark for You; night is as light as day; darkness and light are the same.” (Psalms 139:12) While from our limited human perspective, we see only when there is light and appreciate only what we see as good, this is not so for God, the miraculous, multifaceted “everything.” For God, light, darkness, good, and evil are all aspects of Creation.