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September 30, 1994 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-09-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Deciding And Revising
Make Wise Creation

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he rabbis of antiquity may
not have known of di-
nosaurs, but their visions
of earth's first creatures
matched the fantasies of Juras-
sic Park. In this week's portion,
Bereshit, we read that prior to the
creation of Adam, God fashioned
manifold air and sea creatures.
The most exotic of these creatures
were "the great serpents"
(hataninim hagedolim) which the
rabbis identified with the myth-
ic sea monster couple named
Leviathan.
Like all creatures, these pri-
mordial monsters were com-
manded "be fruitful and
multiply." But, on second
thought, God decided that a mul-
titude of Leviathans would im-
peril the planet. A verse from
Isaiah (27:1) states that God
killed the sea monster (hatanin
ashen beyam). The Talmud ex-
plains that God sterilized the
male Leviathan, and killed and
salted the female to preserve her
as a delicacy for the righteous to
eat in paradise (Bava Batra 74b).
This aggadah (legend) cap-
tures the imagination, and it ex-
plains how God could bless such
creatures with fertility and still
fashion a world hospitable to hu-
manity. But it also exemplifies a
larger theme of the entire portion:
Time and again, God creates and
then modifies the creation. The
first seven-day creation account
is followed immediately by a sec-
ond narrative which identifies
God with the additional name
yod-hey-vav-hey. The rabbis' ex-
planation for these twin accounts,
which is even more radical than
that of modern Bible critics, is
that God first created the world
according to the attribute ofjus-
tice (din). But, seeing that the
world could never survive the
strict rule of law, God returned
and created it with mercy (ra-
hamim). God created by trial and
error.
This pattern of creation and
then correction continues through
the parsha and indeed through-
out the Torah. God creates hu-
manity, but then regrets the
decision: "And the Lord regretted
that he had made the Adam in
the land, and it saddened his
heart." (6:6) God floods the earth
to purge it of sinners, but then
promises never to repeat this
punishment: "God said to him-
self, I will not continue to curse
the earth because of humanity..."
(8:21) After the golden calf

Daniel Nevins is assistant rabbi
at Adat Shalom Synagogue.

episode, God even regrets that he
took Israel out of Egypt and of-
fers Moses the opportunity to be
the founder of a new people (Ex-
odus 32:10).
What are we to make of these
divine decisions and revisions? Is
God somehow less omniscient or
less omnipotent for these appar-
ent failures?
In fact, it seems that God is set-
ting a pattern for humans to im-
itate in our own forays into
creativity. If God creates by ex-
perimenting and revising, then
who are we to be obstinate in our
ways? We are not less impressive
for revising strategies that don't
live up to their initial promise.
When we experiment, evaluate
and then revise our plans, we are
wiser creatures and more suc-
cessful creators. Surely God could
have created a perfect world, but
instead God demonstrated the
need for experimentation and cor-
rection.
This idea of God imposing self-
restraints in order to give hu-
mans an opportunity to learn is

Shabbat Bereshit:
Genesis 1:1-6:8
Isaiah 42:5-43:10.

a mainstream tenet of Jewish
mysticism. God creates us and
our world with imperfections so
that we may be ennobled in
learning from our mistakes and
overcoming our failures. The only
human flaw which is inexcusable
is the refusal to change.
This is a lesson worth inter-
nalizing as we start a new Jew-
ish year. Hopefully, the Days of
Awe were a time for introspection
and self-scrutiny. We now return
to our world more aware of our
shortcomings, and resolved to im-
prove our behavior. Each of us
should be creative—whether in
family, professional or commu-
nal capacities.
But we mustn't become so in-
volved in our efforts that we for-
get to evaluate the results.
Sometimes our pet projects be-
come monsters, devouring bud-
gets and wasting precious
resources. Brilliant educational
theories may prove ineffective in
the classroom. Parenting strate-
gies may require rethinking
when a child rebels. Jewish goals
may prove misguided, so that we
need to refocus our commitments.
Pride and refusal to recognize
failure are the great impediments
to progress.



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