Creation and Creativity
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world, yet nowhere in the service do we read about creation. Genesis is completely absent from all the biblical verses of Malchuyot-Zichronot-Shofarot.
Instead of a beautiful, seamless execution where the creator murmurs delight and surprise in the unfolding creation, we get a different story of creation. We get the story of a mother and her child banished and the story of a father ready to murder his son.
What were the rabbis thinking about? The liturgy tells us: Zeh Ha Yom Techilat Ma’asecha. This is the day You created the world. It seems a deliberate attempt not to confuse our human creations with the divine creation. Ancient religions celebrated each new year with a grand pageant that relived the triumph of gods in creating cosmos out of chaos. By seeing that myth of creation, the ancient believer found meaning to life: only this moment in the world was real. Creation happened once and nothing after mattered. History offered no meaning, because humans were not historical and their memories had no value.
Judaism celebrates creation as a beginning, not as an end. On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate not only the sacredness of the world’s creation but the abundance of creative possibilities in every moment. Creation is incomplete, the world is unfinished, imperfect. On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the ethics of creativity and our creative power to shape moral order out of amoral energy.
Creation itself doesn’t offer meaning. Meaning comes from our messy history, individual and collective. What we remember as a people tells us how we understand the meaning of the world and our lives, e.g. Abraham at Sodom and Moriah rejecting genocide and infanticide as incompatible with his understanding of godliness.
The seven days of creation is not our model for the beginning of our own creation that occurs on Rosh Hashanah, but the agonies of Abraham as a father. Torah tells us how troubled he is to send Ishmael and Hagar and although Torah doesn’t tell us what he feels about binding Isaac, the repetition of “Take Isaac, your son, your only son, whom thou lovest, ” makes us uncomfortably empathic. He is not only the father of these boys but our father, too. We listen and watch closely to see how he finds salvation from his dilemmas. Just as we cannot wave a hand and seamlessly create as God did, so Abraham cannot look to the creation story to solve his problem. It is only in the real, imperfect world, in real time, in profane history, and in our dialogues and uncertainty, do we find the divine revealed in our lives. Abraham and his family suffer as we do, and they survive and learn as life unfolds. Their lives become lessons for us as we live our own. We come to understand that Godliness means using creativity, choice and discovery to make the world just and loving.
A Hasid went to Menachem Mendel of Kotsk full of doubt and anguish, because he had “terrible thoughts” about God and the meaning of the world. To every dark question of the Hasid, Menachem Mendel reported, “What do you care?” But he saw the man cared deeply. He told him, “Don’t worry about your doubts. Because you care so much, and you’re honest, you’re entitled to such doubts.” In beginnings, worlds are created. In human creativity, meanings are created.
Before Morning Blessings of Thanksgiving
I often awaken in the morning self-absorbed. Maybe a dream is still with me, an ache reminds me I have a body, my mind begins to think of what I must do today. The Baal Shem Tov said that “The world is full of wonders and miracles, but we take our little hands and we cover our eyes and see nothing.”
But these morning blessings pull my hands from my eyes as I experience my being as part of creation. AJ Heschel: The focus of prayer is not self. Prayer comes to pass in a complete turning of the heart toward God, toward God’s goodness and power. It is the momentary disregard of our personal concerns, the absence of self-centered thoughts, which constitute the art of prayer. Feeling becomes prayer in the moment in which we forget ourselves and become aware of God…prayer is an invitation to God to intervene in our lives; it is the opening of a window to God.
“The words of our prayers must not fall off our lips like dead leaves in the autumn. They must rise like birds-out of the heart-into the vast expanse of eternity.
Make every effort to pray from the heart. Even if you do not succeed, the effort is precious in the eyes of the Lord.” -Nachman Of Bratslav