NiSh’ma: Tohu VaVohu

NiSh’ma is a simulated Talmud page where three commentators explicate a verse from Genesis on Creation.

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Genesis 1:2

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

The earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water.

NiSh’ma

Andy BachmanBy Andy Bachman:

I recently read Moby-Dick, joining a long tradition held by those who believe that this is the greatest novel written in the English language. Melville’s character the Whale trolls deeply our untamed, elusive, wildly creative unconscious mind. Melville goes where every creative person aspires to travel: to the depths and heights of prophecy; to the inner sanctum of madness; and, like Akiva emerging from deep inquiry, to a place of ephemeral humility where he is adrift in a fleeting tranquility before his next adventure into chaos and creativity.

As a new generation of American Jews, we ought to think about how destruction and chaos have shaped our success and marked our path forward. And we should face our challenges as previous generations of Jews have so gallantly faced theirs. Today, we must figure out how Jewish values will help shape the direction of our nation and the ongoing project of American identity. The same generation that saved civilization from Nazi fascism also built the first Jewish state in 2,000 years. Those achievements are monumental and remind us that making order from chaos is the challenge of every generation.

What will we do to respond to the threats that troll the deep in our day? What creative responses await our unique call to make light, to make justice, to make peace? In the Genesis narrative, it is not so much light that God creates on the first day, but distinction, the ability to discern between light and dark, water and earth, good and evil. Eternal Jewish values — especially the idea to repair the world through learning, spirituality, and deeds of loving-kindness — can serve as a compass on this journey in turbulent times.

NiSh’ma

Adina LewittesBy Adina Lewittes:

Nightly, we pray for safety in the darkness. At dawn, we greet life anew, offering thanks for the rooster distinguishing between darkness and light, as well as the discernment Rabbi Andy Bachman identifies as the foundation of Creation. But the rooster doesn’t crow at daylight; it crows at nighttime’s end, signaling the approaching sunrise. Its power is to discern not daylight, but the sun’s imminent arrival; its power is to declare not what is, but what’s coming.

“Who is wise?” asks the Talmud, “One who sees ‘hanolad,’ that which is being born.” Like the rooster announcing the impending sunrise, a wise person perceives not what is, but what’s emerging.

As the New Year approaches, we yearn to emerge from the surrounding despair. Can we see darkness not as a limitation of our vision, but as a fertile source of anticipation? Can we learn not to fear the dark but to embrace its promise of light, of hope?

Let’s not wait for darkness to lift before bringing more light into the world, or for fear to abate before illuminating the world with courage, or for hate to recede before reaching out with love. Let’s not wait until we no longer see today before declaring a vision for tomorrow.

NiSh’ma

Hadar CohenBy Hadar Cohen:

In the beginning of the Creation process, there is formlessness. Formlessness is a state of complete emptiness; it is nothingness that holds the potential for everything. In it is the heart of chaos. To manifest this world, form must emerge from this emptiness.

Between nothing and everything, there is form — a structure that can hold something. Form is an organizing system, a certain way of setting boundaries and delineating how content can be structured.

Creation is not a process of making something out of nothing, but rather of shaping what is already there. Creation transforms the chaos embedded in formlessness into a configuration where each particle belongs in its particular location.

In the space of chaos, all energies can freely interact with one another. There is no sense of separation; everything is completely interwoven and interconnected. Through the act of forming, we become separate. Boundaries emerge, differentiating and setting apart each subject for its uniqueness.

Even when we are separate, we hold the memory of complete connection. And this awareness can guide our work toward pursuing justice and healing our world, as Rabbi Andy Bachman describes. Remembering this unity and how we are connected inspires our human journey.

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NiSh’ma: Tohu VaVohu

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