1. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth
2. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.
We are at the beginning of the Torah readings, and the beginning of the Torah starts with the beginning of our world. This is the story of how God created the world in seven days. Some people believe God created the world in seven days, other people, me for instance, believe that this is a story, an important story, that forms the body of stories that we Jews tell each other, that help us remember who and what we are and what we value. And the bit of Torah i just read tells about that very first day, when God created existence as we know it.
So I want to tell you another story, the story of what happened before this first day, if you can imagine that.
Do you know what kabbala is? Kabbala is the Jewish mystical tradition, which is a tradition of thinking about God and spirituality and the meaning and reasons for why we exist, and all sorts of good stuff like that. And in kabbala there are all sorts of stories for how things came to be, and one of my favorite stories is this, the story of tzimtzum.
Before our world existed, before our universe, nothing existed but God. Imagine that. Nothing existed but God. God was everywhere and everything. The Kabbala mystics call this God the Ain Sof, which means in Hebrew, Without End. I can’t imagine it, something without a beginniing or an end, but that’s God. God is everywhere. But one day, God says, I want to create. I want to create the universe where there will be life and people and trees and stars and planets and you and me and everything we know and love. But God can’t, because there’s no room for anything new, because God is everywhere.
So God decides to pull back, to withdraw just enough of God’s God-ness so that there’s room for everything else, for the planets and the stars and you and me. God pulls back, which was very hard for God because God was used to being everything, but God pulled back and made room for us. And that is the tzimtzum, which means, contraction, God made some empty space so God could create the universe that we know and live in and love. And that’s the story of tzimtzum.
So God did tzimtzum so we could be created. So when could you do tzimtzum to help someone else be creative? Maybe sometimes, with your younger brother or sister, or with someone in school, who isn’t as quick as you, maybe sometimes when they’re having a hard time, you want to tell them the answer? Maybe sometimes, if someone is drawing a picture or writing a story or a poem, you want to tell them how to do the drawing or tell that story because you know you have the right answer or the right story and it will be better if they do what you tell them. But then, if you do those things, you’re like God before God pulled back, you’re taking up all the space and not letting that person find the answer for themselves, or create their vision and not yours. And maybe their answer or their art or their story will not be better than yours or maybe it will, or maybe it will just be different, but if you don’t give them the space you will never know that answer or see that picture or hear that story.
Because God pulled back, all of us were able to be born and live. God wanted to create us and love us, so God made room for us to breathe and God gave us free will, to become who we want to be, and think and feel on our own, and sometimes, when we want to help someone we love, even when we know we’re right and they’re wrong, we have to be like God and do tzimtzum, and pull back and give them room to breathe and make their own mistakes, so they can see the world for themselves. In this parsha, in Bereishit, God creates us in God’s image and this is one way for us to be in God’s image, by making room for the people we love.
God pulled back and then God said, let there be light, and there was light.