Our creations are blessings in the world

Rabbi Lori Levine

BY RABBI LORI LEVINE

I love creating. Though I am no artist by any stretch of the imagination, I find deep satisfaction in making something new. 

The energy we tap into when we paint, draw, build, cook, bake  or make some other creative effort can help us push ourselves to new heights and out of our comfort zones. When one considers the hard work, inspiration and focus it takes to create, it makes sense that shaping and making something is the first sacred act we witness in the Torah.  

We begin the cycle of our Torah readings again this week with Bereishit. Out of chaos, God begins to make order in the world. Everything is separated into categories and labeled with its unique purpose. Day and night, sky and sea, land and water, each emerge to make up the universe. Famously, at the end of each day, God looks around at that day’s creation and declares it to be tov, good, or in some cases tov me-od, very good. On the seventh day, God ceases creating and takes a step back to rest. 

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The Torah paints a rather idealized picture of the process of creation. Everything neatly falls into place, and its Creator is consistently satisfied with the work completed. The light is never slightly too bright and the plants and flowers all grow in their appointed spots. Everything works exactly according to God’s instructions. 

This version of creation gives us a lovely, ordered backstory for the world we inhabit today, but it does not exactly reflect the creation human beings typically pursue. Our creation stories are messy. They involve multiple drafts, trial and error, frustrated murmuring, a few tears, and staring back at our work with a critical eye. We rely on trusted friends, beloved family members and honest mentors to give us feedback and help us create a different, better version. 

One of my favorite modern midrashim on this Torah portion projects an image of God as the Creator that looks a little bit more like us in our own creative process. In a book of Midrash by contemporary Israeli female scholars entitled “Dirshuni,” Tamar Biale offers another dimension to the process of creation: 

“‘The heavens and the earth and all their host were done (VaYaChuLu). On the seventh day, God was done (VaYiChaL) with all the work that God did, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work God did.’ (Genesis 2:1-2)

Why did the Torah repeat that the Holy Blessed One was done with all the work on the seventh day? To teach you that the first to be done in, of their own accord, were heaven and earth. Until that day they had stood and existed. The seventh day arrived, and cracks appeared in them, and they looked ready to break down.”

In the midrash, the author imagines that when the seventh day arrived, some of creation was starting to show its age. There were cracks in the heavens, imperfections in everything and God began to despair. In this version, God resting on the seventh day occurs due to God’s shock and disappointment rather than a feeling of satisfaction. If everything in creation is only going to break down, what is the point in making anything at all? Will God simply regret creating and give up on the whole project? The midrash offers a fascinating solution, and it teaches us a critical lesson for our own lives and creative efforts. 

“… God said, ‘Blessings and sanctifications will come along, and each and every thing, each and every being in the world will see the vital side of itself, the good side of itself. When each thing remembers this, it will be strengthened, and all of us will be strengthened ourselves.”

With blessings and opportunities to recognize holiness, our tradition encourages us to see the beauty and sanctity of creation that remains. Instead of sinking deep into despair about all the things we are not, or focusing only on the mistakes we have made, we can elevate the good and the strength of our hands. Our creations will be good enough simply because we created them, and our work will be worthy of us because we are worthy. Let us allow this Shabbat Bereishit to remind us that we are like God because we create. Give us the strength and insight to remember the good, to lift up our generative efforts and see their innate value in the world. 

Our works may not be perfect and a few of the cracks may show, but they still have purpose in the universe. I pray that when Shabbat comes each week, we can sit back and say, “My work is pretty good!” and count it as a blessing in our lives.

Rabbi Lori Levine is rabbi educator at Congregation Shaare Emeth and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.