Monday, October 31, 2016

tohu va'vohu is part of the process of creation

1. The opening of Braishis is the story of creation. Why then are we treated to the introduction of  “v’ha’aretz haysa tohu va’vohu,” a description of the pre-creation void?   B'shlama if you interpret the pesukim like Ramban, namely, that tohu va’vohu is some kind of building block matter necessary for all else to be created, then I guess it makes sense. But according to Rashi, who understands tohu va’vohu to simply be a void and chaos, why mention it? If you were to describe an artist at work, you would talk about the brushstrokes on the canvas, not the blank canvas that was there before he started to paint.  Why talk about what was there before G-d started making our world and the universe?

Sefas Emes explains that the Torah / G-d is teaching us about how to create, what creativity means.  The artist doesn't just sit down and produce a great work of art, a great piece of literature.  There are dozens of prior sketches that are first tested and discarded, dozens of drafts that don't make it further than the trash bin.  Hashem was "birei olamos u'machrivan."  At first there was tohu va'vohu.  This is not pre-creation -- this gufa is part of the process of creation.  Every act of creation, growth, advancement, always first starts with chaos and void.  

It's difficult as a parent when your kids are growing up and sometimes it seems like they have no idea what direction that are going in or what direction they want to go in and you wonder why they just can't get on with it and mature.  I was just telling my wife yesterday that this is the Sefas Emes -- you can't the "ye'hi ohr" without first having a little "tohu va'vohu."  And it doesn't just apply to kids either : )

2. The parsha tells us that Kayin named his son Chanoch and "va'yehi boneh ir vayikra shem ha'ir k'shem b'no Chanoch."  Kayin was a builder -- boneh=present tense -- of a city, and he named this city Chanoch, the same name as his son.  Kli Yakar reads this in a negative light.  Sometimes you have people who once they get a starter house are already planning on how to move up to a bigger house, and then once they get the bigger house they want an even bigger one.  Kayin kept building that city -- he couldn't stop.   He was never done; it was never past tense for him.  He was so captured and engrossed in physical land and space, in the size of his house, his city, that it became his life's sole focus. 

I prefer to put a more positive spin on it.  HaKsav vHaKabbalah notes that the name Chanoch comes from the word "chinuch" = education.  It's not by chance that Kayin took this name for his son and his city.  Kayin knew he was a sinner and knew he had weak points.  He needed to constantly remind himself, to educate himself, as to what the correct approach to life should be.  What better way to have a constant reminder of that than to name his son and his hometown Chanoch?  Maybe that's why Kayin is described as a builder, "boneh," in the present tense.  He was always building -- building himself.  Were he to stop, were he to not have that reminder, the building, himself, might collapse. 

We say in Neilah and in our slichos that we are saddened when we see, "b're'osi kol ir al tilah benuyah," every city built up, "v'ir Elokim mushpeles...," but the city of G-d so downtrodden.  The Shem m'Shmuel suggests that the word "ir" can be interpreted to mean hisorerus.  When it comes to outside pursuits, we are awake and eager, but when it comes to zeal and enthusiasm for Hashem, suddenly the air is out of the balloon.  I want to piggyback on his derush and apply it to Kayin.   "Va'yehi boneh ir"-- Kayim was constantly involved in building his hisore'rus.  He knew that he was living life on a slippery downward slope, and the only way not to fall back was to keep climbing.  


  1. What is "void and chaos"? If there is nothing there, what's being chaotic?

    And if 1:2 is before the creation process, where did the water come from?

    1. Ikar haschalas sipir ha'bria 'yehi ohr' - Gur Aryeh. We can't imagine or describe what tohu va'vohu was because it is outside our universe.

      >>>where did the water come from?

      Isn't that Rashi's question?

      (from Chaim)

  2. 1. Sounds awfully close to several of the topics of Ein Dorshin in Chagiga, but who knows? Science has forced this upon us.
    2. This is not a substantive observation, and I realize that the two seem incompatible, but this would not be out of place in either chasidishe drush or modern homily.