When God began to create heaven and earth, there was “tohu v’vohu”, with darkness over the surface of the deep and the spirit of God sweeping over the water, God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. Recently, I heard the head of Jewish Life at Emanuel School, Adina Roth, explain that tohu v’ vohu, a unique phrase in the Torah, could be understood as chaos. That is, at the dawn of creation, there was chaos. And then came the light, this being what is known as the “supernal light”, essence of light itself, for in the story, sunlight only appears on the fourth day of creation. This supernal light, known as white light is a combination of all colours in the colour spectrum; it has all the colours of the rainbow. (https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/physics/see-the-light2/the-color-of-light). This opening story of the Torah culminates with the teaching of Shabbat, a time of sacredness and blessing, a time of wholeness and peace. In other words, Torah teaches that the arc of creation is meant to take us from chaos to the light of true inclusion, of the all within the one.
Alas, the next few chapters describe a humanity that cannot hold this ideal. Humanity eats of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, and a downward trajectory follows in which so much bad unfolds – murder and mayhem, greed and lust for power that this first story concludes, “יהוה saw how great was human wickedness on earth—how every plan devised by the human mind was nothing but evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5). Different peoples around the world for thousands of years have experienced the actualisation of evil within the human mind; for thousands of years the scourge of antisemitism has brought it clearly home to us, yet we never thought that less than 80 years after the Shoah such horror would befall us as it did in Israel on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
But we must remember that while we end this opening story of Torah on the troubling note that “God regretted the creation of humanity”, there is a small glimmer of hope, what traditionally is called, “nechemta”, or comfort, connected to the name of Noach, whose story unfolds the following week. Noah will lead the next generations out of destruction, to a future after the flood, symbolised by the dove and the olive branch, the symbol of peace.
We too keep the faith of nechemta, of future comfort. This time is not the time of the Shoah. At the solidarity rally held in Sydney this week, national and state leaders of both government and opposition, condemned in strongest terms the obscene violence perpetrated on innocent Jews and antisemitism in any form. The police were there to protect us. And all spoke of Israel’s sovereign right to exist and defend itself. While there will be challenging times ahead, and we have a long way to go to fulfil the call to be a light to the nations, we must recall always the vision of creation itself. That out of chaos comes the light, the light of the rainbow, the light of inclusion, the light of peace itself.
This is our time to come together in prayer and learning, to aspire to the essence of what it means to say: Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Jeffrey B. Kamins OAM