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First Chaos…Then Creation

Rabbi Sarah Marion
“First Chaos…Then Creation”
August 28, 2020

We are about to enter the Season of Creation.

It is the time of year when the long summer days are beginning to dwindle, and we can see Rosh Hashanah just over the horizon – the day on which we celebrate the creation of the world, and all that we might do and create in the New Year to come.

And then, just a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah, we will finish our yearly Torah cycle and return back to the beginning – back to Bereshit Bara Elohim – the story of creation – when, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the sun and the sky, and fruit bearing trees and seed bearing plants of every kind.[1]   

I learned something really fascinating about plants the other day. Like many of you, gardening became a creative pandemic pastime for me and my family. This past April, we embarked on the substantial project of removing the piles of leaves and weeds and the years and years of debris that had piled up on top of the large garden patch alongside our driveway. Once we got rid of the chaos and the mess, and unearthed what was underneath, we were amazed by what we found, and we were amazed by what began to blossom and grow in unbelievable abundance.

Rosh bushes. Peonies. A Japanese bleeding heart bush. Daises upon daises upon daises. It was especially amazing to me, that even after all those years of being submerged under so much muck and chaos, that our flowers remained alive, waiting to be unearthed. And – not only that – but when they finally had access to sun and space and water, they blossomed and bloomed to their fullest and greatest potential, with a sense of unstoppable relentlessness, as if none of the mess and none of the chaos had ever happened.

And so I started wondering – why is that? What makes plants so susceptible to resilience, and perseverance? I asked my friend and gardening extraordinaire Miranda Lubarsky, who works for the CT-based garden start-up organization “Homefront Famers.”  She told me that when some plants become stressed, due to a loss of sun or water, they do something really remarkable. They begin to flower and set seed.

Or, in other words, when they are faced with chaotic conditions, they create something entirely new in order to survive.

Bereshit bara elohim et hashamayim v’et ha’aretz v’ha’aretz ha’itah tohu v’vohu

When God was about to create heaven and earth, the earth was a chaotic, unformed void. And on the chaotic waters’ face there was darkness. And then God’s spirit glided over the face of the waters, and God said: “Let there be light!” and there was light. Or, in other words, out of the chaos, God created something entirely new. God created light – paving the way for the world and all of its inhabitants to grow, to thrive, to survive. 

And ever since that first beginning, that beginning that preceded all of the other, subsequent beginnings, we have been creating and growing and surviving in the exact same way.

First, there is a deep void or a dark loss that leads to a sense of tumult and chaos. And then, then, in order to survive and thrive,  there is the creation of something entirely new.

It is a trope that has repeated itself, throughout our history, time and time again.

Like when the Israelites left Egypt and found themselves wandering through a vast, unknown wilderness terrain of hot sand and dessert storms, and, suddenly, God’s comforting presence was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t so long ago that God had infiltrated their everyday lives with miraculous signs and wonders like the ten plagues, the parting of the sea. And so it was no wonder that the Israelites were baffled and confused. Has God left us? The loss of God’s daily presence affected them deeply; they felt an intense void in their hearts that needed to be filled.

And so chaos ensued as they attempted to fill the void, through the construction of a false God of gold. A golden calf. A way to have something – anything – that would bring them a sense of divine comfort and protection.[2]

But soon enough, they realized that an idol wouldn’t do the trick and would only lead to their demise as a monotheistic nation. And, after all, the idea of bowing down to an idol was hardly a new idea to begin with.

But then, out of the chaos of the calf incident came another creation – something that was, in fact, completely new.  Something that would, indeed, fill the void and enable their spiritual survival. The Israelites created the Mishkan, the portable wilderness sanctuary that would provide a space for God’s presence to live and dwell among them.[3]

The Mishkan, which became the blueprint for the Temple in Jerusalem, which then became the blueprint for every synagogue that exists today.

The Mishkan. We wouldn’t be who we are today, without it.

And then fast forward hundreds and hundreds of years, to the Land of Israel around the year 168 BCE, when the Jews were enduring persecutions under the rule of the Syrian tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes, and, among a long list of prohibitions, was the decree banning Jews from reading Torah in public. Undoubtedly, the loss of Torah created a tremendous void in their daily practice, which could have permanently extinguished Judaism as they knew it. But once again – out of the chaos, out of the void, out of the loss, came something entirely new – something that enabled Jewish continuity and ensured Jewish survival.

It was quite brilliant, actually. No Torah? They said. No problem. We’ll simply find a temporary replacement to maintain our learning and our community – and Antiochus will never know. If we can’t read Torah, they reasoned, then we’ll read a passage from one of the Biblical prophets that is thematically similar to the weekly Torah portion.  And that is how the tradition of reading Haftarah – A passage from one of the Prophets – came to be. And so because of their creativity,  we now have the tradition of reading Haftarah  after every Torah reading on every Shabbat.[4]

Who knows what new rituals and what new traditions we are creating right now from all the chaos and all the loss. New rituals and traditions that may, eventually, become staples of who we are. New rituals and traditions that, someday, future generations will look at and say: “Look at what they created during that time of chaos in order to thrive – in order to survive.”  

Now that I think about it, it is no wonder that plants, humans, all share the same instincts, the same creative DNA, as our ultimate, Divine Creator. It is no wonder, that one who created us in the midst of chaos, imbued us with that same innate potential, making it so that we, too, have the extraordinary ability to create even when there is chaos, even when there is loss.

Bereshit bara elohim.

In the beginning, of the year 2020 – there was chaos and there was loss.

But even as we grieved, our creative, Divinely-Inspired spirits took root.

Like God, we created new light and new life.  We gardened. We zoomed.

We created new ways of learning and living. We created new ways of being. We created new ways of hoping. We created new ways of protesting. We created new ways of voting. We created new ways of loving. And we created new ways of surviving.

God only knows what this coming New Year – the year 5781 – will bring.

It may, very well, carry over the same darkness and chaos and loss from the year before.

But even as we continue to grieve, my wish and my hope for this New Year is that it will also be a year of continued creativity, for us as individuals, for us as families, and for us as a community. I hope it will be a year of continued openness to new beginnings and new ideas, and a year of continued embrace of new possibilities. Because our future, and our survival – depends on it.

[1] Genesis 1

[2] Exodus 32

[3] Exodus 35

[4] For this theory see