Jewish learning The Spiraling Cycle of (Re)Creation
Parashat Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)
“I’ve never felt physically aligned with the conception of linear time” writes author Sophie Strand. “Time…layers, compresses, buckles…The past can change and reflux into the present. The present can settle like dust and pollen on other older sedimented events, forming a physical chronicle.”¹ Emerging from the power and intensity of our high holiday season, we end with a celebration of the cyclical, spiraling nature of time. Just last week, on Simchat Torah, we ceremoniously laid two scrolls side by side in front of us—one open to the very end of the story, alongside the other, open to the start. In these final moments of our holiday season, we proclaimed the beauty of the truth that the past is never past and the future is already here, that our story can be both old and new at once. In that powerful, climactic moment we moved from the conclusion of our collective story, the final verses of Torah, back to the very beginning, the creation of the world.
In this dramatic ritual reading on Simchat Torah, we affirmed the ways in which time cycles and swirls. Hearing the final lines of Deuteronomy, we felt the tenderness and intensity of Moses, gazing into the Promised Land, never to step foot there, as God kisses him and draws the breath from his mouth. We mourn Moses’ death there on Mount Nebo, holding with tenderness the reality of his life—the ways in which he completed his journey, without ever truly experiencing completion. And then: those final, moving lines still echoing in the air, in the same breath in which we tell of the story’s ending, a continuous cascade of words begins our story once again. It’s as though the breath God draws from Moses’s lips is the same breath that is breathed into adam, the first human of Bereishit, starting the story over, anew.
Reading Moses’s death alongside the creation of the world, the past mixes with the future and the ending of one story is woven through with new life as the story begins again. It is as if we can see the rolling hills of the Promised Land erupting within the creation story, as dry land is being formed; as if the stardust and glimmering lights of Bereishit are awaiting us, beckoning us on into the Promised land. As if the dirt from which adam comes is the same ground in which Moses is buried. Tradition teaches ain mukdam o’m’uchar b’Torah—there is no early or late in Torah. There is no linearity—no beginning and no end. The world is continually remade, and we are, too.
What a beautifully true and deeply ecological story our holiday cycle tells. There is the crest of the wave that reaches towards the sky and then falls back into the sea, the tide pulling out and the cycle starting over in an infinite undulation. The compost heap churns, the organisms decompose the scraps and the rot gives way to renewal—fresh soil for new seeds that have been waiting there to blossom. Between the in-breath and the out-breath, the rot and the renewal, all of it is the creative process.
This Shabbat, we return again to the start: Bereishit bara Elohim, in the beginning of God’s creation of heaven and earth, ha-aretz hayta tohu va’vohu, the earth was chaos and void. We read those lines with the final verses of Deuteronomy still reverberating inside us. The chaos and void, the cacophony and emptiness are not just all that precedes creation, that which exist before the story begins. These materials, this state of creative possibility, are also that which flow from every ending, the inevitable next chapter after reaching anything we’ve deemed as our “Promised Land.”
On the heels of the deep work of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in which we prayed and pleaded and processed our way towards beginning again, Bereishit reminds us that there is no “fresh start,” and helps us to open to the possibilities contained in this truth. Just as for God there is chaos and void and the creative impulse to begin the journey once again, so too for us. Moving from the introspection of our holiday season, we are invited to become intrepid travelers, bringing our curiosity, energy and excitement to whatever mess we find, knowing that the mess itself is the medium of renewal.
Throughout the holiday season we engaged in the process of return, change and renewal in so many different ways, from every possible angle. We prayed and pleaded, we searched our hearts and scoured our souls, we repented and recanted, released and realigned ourselves for the coming year. Yet, as we read Parashat Bereishit this week, we are reminded—gloriously, gratefully—that we are never fully formed, finished and done. Like Torah, we do not come to some completion. Rather, the cycle of growth and change, of creative becoming, is ongoing, never-ending. This is what it means to be alive. As Strand writes, “When I pass back over the equinox each year, time grows busy and dense, palimpsestic, with previous events shimmering through the thin parchment of today’s tawny sunlight.” The conclusion of one part of our story is the start of the next. Every arrival at a Promised Land is precursor to the creative possibilities of chaos and void that lie ahead, just as every beginning is a foretaste of a beautiful creative unfolding that is yet to come.
May it be so.
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- Sophie Strand, “On Thick Time & Desire” Substack, Oct, 2023.
Rabbi Adina Allen is a spiritual leader, writer, and educator who grew up in an art studio where she learned firsthand the power of creativity for connecting to self and to the Sacred. She is cofounder and creative director of Jewish Studio Project (JSP), where she is helping to seed a future in which every person is connected to their creativity as a force for healing, liberation and social transformation. Her first book, The Place of All Possibility: a Torah of Creativity (Ayin Press) will be published Spring 2024. Adina was ordained by Hebrew College in 2014 where she was a Wexner Graduate Fellow.Explore Graduate Programs Support Our Work