When God began to create heaven and earth — being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and wind from God sweeping over the water —
Rashi (Avivah Zornberg trans.)
This text says nothing but “Explain me!” … The text does not reveal anything regarding the sequential order of creation.
“Let there be”: Let the separation be strengthened. Even though the heavens had already been created on the first day, they were still liquid. They crystallized on the second day, in response to God’s rebuke: “Let there be separation.” This is what is written, “The pillars of heaven tremble, are astounded at His rebuke”. All that first day, that which the heavens stand on were trembling, but on the second day, they were astounded at His rebuke, like a man who is stunned and frozen in place under the rebuke of one who intimidates him.
Avivah Zornberg writes that we are accustomed to reading Bereishit as a straightforward sequence of events. She is intrigued that Rashi disputes that idea, and she looks deeply into the midrashic sources from which Rashi developed his commentary. Initially, Rashi makes this argument grammatically and because the second verse states that “water” exists before the creation of light. But Rashi is profoundly troubled by the text — where does the water rest? Is it really water or light as we understand it? Creation, in the midrashic sources involves trembling and weeping – there is loss and diminishment. There is loss of infinite potential, as “water” takes form, freezes, and separates.
In Zornberg’s exploration we will encounter three main concepts —
havdalah: “separation, specialization, the formation of difference and opposition”,”individuated”
amidah: “finding one place to stand: this Rashi’s definition of being.”,”a solid reality”
anokhi: “I am”, God’s transcendent oneness, the source of reality, and the human construction of meaning which gives us the ability to stand in the presence of God.
The process of creation is one of separation — a process that culminates in the human condition. Yet when God creates Adam He does something different: Humans are paradoxical creations, tied to both to Heaven and Earth. Built into who we are is a tension that threatens to disrupt our reality — our ability to stand. That inner tension forces us to make our own reality.
Okay, this really hard to understand. The midrashic sources sometimes use a metaphor to explain this and we’ll try it too: the process of children growing up.
As a parent, you want your children to grow up, to become independent, and to develop their own lives. That process will involve change, including separation. Sometimes there are bumps and scrapes in the process. Sometimes it is sad. At other times you may feel joy and pride.
As a young adult, you desire your independence but also recognize that there is loss. You may find that some of your deeply held perceptions and beliefs were wrong. You may have to rebuild your understandings and develop new images of yourself, your parents, and your world. You have to learn how to stand on your own.
Gittin 43a (Avivah Zornberg trans.)
No one stands on [under-stands] the words of Torah, unless he has stumbled over them. [Zornberg: To discover firm standing ground, it is necessary to explore, to stumble, even to fall … only because of death and failure are humans impelled to create the world anew.]