Bereishit – The Beginning of What?
This week’s parsha begins with, well, the beginning. Of life, the universe, everything. The first words of the Torah: Bereishit Bara Elokim.
These words are traditionally translated as “in the beginning, God created.” God created, in the past. All of the creating already happened, right there in the beginning. That’s the pshat, the simple explanation from the text. However, Rashi and Ibn Ezra point out that this cannot be true.
According to the rules of Hebrew grammar, Bereishit does not mean “in the beginning.” Rather, it means, “In the beginning of.” Rashi brings four proof texts of our other places in Tanach where Bereishit can only mean in the beginning of.
So…in the beginning of what? The answer: The beginning of God’s creation of the world.
But why does this simple grammatical correction matter so much that our medieval commentators would go to such lengths to prove it?
The answer reflects an important distinction in how Judaism views God, the world, and our place in it. A traditional reading of “In the beginning, God created” puts the action in the past and humanity in the present, looking towards a pre-ordained future. But in starting with “in the beginning of God’s creation,” the Torah reveals that creation is always ongoing. Our Torah portion takes place at the beginning of God’s creating of the world, but tells us from the very start that the process of creation is never ended or completed. God continues to create, and has given humanity the tools to co-create a better world with God. Creation is happening right now, at this moment. And now. And now. And each of us has been created to be a part of it.
This coming year, with God’s help we’ll be coming together to create Yavneh’s 75th year. Yavneh has existed for longer than most of us have been alive. It might seem like, what’s left to be done? As a single camper/madrich(a)/staff member, what could I possibly have to give that hasn’t already been given? Everything has been created already! But if we take the message of Bereishit to heart, we realize that in the world at large and in every community, the process of creation is always unfolding, always expanding, always growing, and the job for each of us to continue to find our part in the world we are helping to create.
Questions for the Shabbat table:
- Why does it matter to us whether God “created” the world or whether God is “creating” the world? How does it affect our understanding of ourselves and our role in the world?
- How do you see creation continuing to unfold around you every day?