The Choas of Creation
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
In the beginning, God made the Heaven and the Earth. (Bereishis 1:1)
Well, yes and no. If the assumption is that “beginning” refers to the
beginning of everything, then the statement, according to Kabbalah,
is false. If “beginning,” however, refers to the beginning of physical
creation, then it is, of course, true. But wasn’t physical creation the
beginning of everything?
No. In fact, the Zohar points out that the verses, as they read, are not in
chronological order (Zohar, Bereishis 16a). Historically-speaking, the
second verse is really the first verse, and vice-versa. The Torah should read:
The earth was null and void, and there was darkness upon the face of the
deep, and the Spirit of God hovered above the water. In the beginning, God
made the Heaven and the earth.
If so, then the Zohar creates more questions than it answers, principally:
If the earth is not created until the second verse, then how can it be
null and void in the first verse? Ostensibly it is a simple and short
question, but the answer is, in fact, the threshold to the entire world of
Kabbalah, which is as vast as it is deep. For, if the Talmud is likened to a
vast sea, then Kabbalah is the entire universe that encompasses it and
everything else for that matter.
Uninterested? Then this is your stop. Curious? Then come take the journey.
In the Torah, the existence of tohu, usually translated as
void or chaos, seems incidental, like the mess that results
from baking a cake or building a house. In each case, the chaos that results
is never intended, it is just part of the process to get to the end result.
While that was also true to some degree with respect to the original chaos
of Creation, the tohu that resulted had been anything but incidental.
Indeed, it was very much intended from the start, and God even went out of
His way, in a matter of speaking, to make sure that it came into existence.
It was the will of the Creator that man have choice and free will, which
necessitated that there be good and evil. For the root of evil to come [into
existence], the vessels broke, and had this not been the case, then there
would only be good in the world, and [no possibility of] reward and
punishment. (Aitz Chaim, Sha’ar HaKlallim, Perek 2)
In Hebrew, it is called Sheviras HaKeilim, the Breaking of the
Vessels, and the idea represents a lot of Kabbalah. That may not
interest a lot of people, until, perhaps, they understand that it is behind
all that goes wrong in Creation, from the Great Flood in Noach’s time, to
the golden calf, to the breaking of the Tablets, to thousands of years of
intense anti-Semitism and extreme persecution, including, in more recent
times, the Holocaust, to whatever may be coming our way next, God forbid.
It’s even the reason why the Stock Market crashes when it does, and why evil
dictators can rise to power and do a lot of diabolical things.
All said and done, it was a single event that occurred prior to Creation as
we know it and it lasted very little time, relatively speaking. But its
impact on Creation was profound, and remains profound, because it can cause
tremendous devastation at any moment in time, and already has on countless
occasions. It is the ‘tohu’ that keeps rearing its ugly head every
day we lose control of history.
However, it is ours to control:
Reish Lakish said: “Why is it written, ‘And it was evening and it was
morning, the sixth day—HEH-Shin-Shin-Yud’ (Bereishis 1:31)? What am I to
learn from the extra Heh? That The Holy One, Blessed is He, made a
condition with Creation and said to them: ‘If the Jewish people accept the
Torah, you can remain; if not, then you will revert back to ‘tohu
vavohu’—null and void.’ ” (Shabbos 88a)
Thus, the Heh, which represents the number five, at the beginning of the
Hebrew word for “sixth,” is an allusion to the five books of the Torah.
“The sixth day, ” though on a Pshat level refers to the sixth
day of Creation, on a Drush level it refers to a future sixth day,
the sixth day of Sivan in the year 2448 from Creation, when the Jewish
people were destined to receive Torah.
All of this tells us, according to Reish Lakish, that the tohu of
Creation is kept at bay by the Torah that the Jewish people learn and
practice. Torah is the chair and the whip that keeps the beast in line, and
the world safe for mankind, and especially the Jewish people. This is what
the verse tells us when it says:
I am God; I called you in righteousness and I will strengthen your hand;
I formed you, and I made you for a people’s covenant, for a light to
nations. (Yeshayahu 42:6)
How did God put an end to most of the tohu of Day One of Creation?
The Torah tells us:
And God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. (Bereishis 1:3)
We find a similar idea in the Midrash with respect to the father of the
And God said, “Let there be light!” And there was Avraham!
In other words, Avraham functioned in the same way in Creation as did the
Original Light of Creation, to dispel tohu and increase light and order
within Creation. He did this quite deftly, as the Talmud explains:
Avraham had all those who passed by and stayed call out in God’s name. How
did he do it? After they ate and drank and stood up to bless him, he would
tell them, “Was it mine that you ate? It was from that which belongs to God
of the world that you ate! Thank, praise, and bless the One who spoke and
created the world!” (Sotah 10b)
This is how Avraham controlled the chaos in his time, and this is the way
his descendants are expected to do it throughout the generations since then,
especially after receiving Torah. The amount of chaos in the world at any
given point in time is an indicator of how well we are doing at this, as the
All punishment comes to the world because of the Jewish people. (Yevamos
If we control the chaos, it must be true.
It also must dictate how we should approach learning Torah, especially as we
begin a new cycle. By the end of this week’s parshah, God will regret that
He created man, and start making plans to flood him out of existence, except
for Noach and his family. His saving grace: grace.
Well, at least that is the way most translate the word chain, which
is what Noach found in the eyes of God to warrant being spared from the
destructive force of the Great Flood. But, as Chanukah, a word whose root is
chayn, and which is also known as the Holiday of Light will make
clear, b”H, chayn has a lot to do with the original light of
Creation, that God Himself used to put tohu in its place.
More on that in the coming weeks, b”H.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.