As we begin the Torah anew with the book of Genesis inevitable questions arise. With all of the tzoris and misery in the world the most fundamental question is, ‘Why did God create the world in the first place?’ Remember, this is not a scientific question but a reflective one. The Talmud answers this question by saying:
When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create man, He created a group of ministering angels and asked them, “Do you agree that we should make man in our image?”
They replied, “Sovereign of the Universe, what will be his deeds?”
God showed them the history of mankind.
The angels replied, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” [Let man not be created].
God destroyed the angels.
He created a second group, and asked them the same question, and they gave the same answer.
God destroyed them.
He created a third group of angels, and they replied, “Sovereign of the Universe, the first and second group of angels told You not to create man, and it did not avail them. You did not listen. What then can we say but this: The universe is Yours. Do with it as You wish.”
And God created man.
But when it came to the generation of the Flood, and then to the generation of those who built the Tower of Babel, the angels said to God, “Were not the first angels right? See how great is the corruption of mankind.”
And God replied (Isaiah 46:4), “Even to old age I will not change, and even to grey hair, I will still be patient.” [Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b]
According to the midrash, God created because God wanted to give up something: God wanted to give up part of Himself (pardon the gender specific language – I want to keep my comments comprehensible). By creating the world, God was no longer the only Entity which could create, choose, and live. God did not create the world for something to punish. God’s choice – and really His only choice in creation – was to give us life and then, in a supreme act of self-dimishment, stepped back and created in us the choices we make.
It is astonishing to know that our Sages saw our creation as God’s gift to the universe and, at the same time, had to give up a bit of Himself. God may ‘still be patient even to grey hair’ to welcome us back to the holy connection between us and Him but that, once again, is our choice, not God’s. God is powerless to make our choices for us. The creator of the universe can choose to create an infinite universe but can’t make simplest choice for any of us.
This gives us awesome power. And it also gives us awesome responsibility. Our choices – often free, sometimes not so free – ultimately reside inside each of us. The echoes of those choices resonate through generations that are not even born. Knowing this and coming to terms with it ought to instill in us a sense of responsibility and, yes, fear and trepidation about the choices we make.
In a sense, God set us adrift on a sea of infinite choice. But we are adrift only if we let loose the cord that binds us to Him and to each other. The holy deeds that elevate us about the profane and the ordinary is that cord. It keeps us bound to holiness and in holiness are our choices made profoundly meaningful. All our choices may not be good ones – for that there is repentance. But as we begin this new year, let our new story unfold with holy choices and with bonds that connect us to the holy. I think it will be then that God will look on us and be satisfied that His choice so long ago was a good one.