Bereshit - The Still Small Voice

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

The Talmud Rosh HaShanah (32a) makes the following observation regarding the creation of the world. "By ten utterances was the world created. And these are they, each introduced by the phrase 'And G‑d said' which are nine (And G‑d said: 1- there shall be light, 2- there shall be a sky, 3- the waters under heaven shall be gathered in one place, 4- the earth shall set forth vegetation, 5- there shall be lights in the heavenly sky, 6- the water shall teem with swarms of living creatures, 7- the earth shall bring forth particular species of living creatures, 8- let us make man with our image and likeness, 9- I will make a compatible helper for him) and even though there are only nine of them, 'In the beginning' is also an utterance, as it is written in Psalm 33 'by the word of G‑d was the heaven created'." The Ethics of the Fathers in trying to clarify this concept states at the beginning of Chapter 5. "With ten utterances was the world created. What does this come to teach us? Indeed, could it not have been created with one utterance? This was to exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world that was created with ten utterances, and to bestow goodly reward upon the righteous who sustain the world that was created by ten utterances." Interesting to be sure, yet it does not explain why the most significant utterance of G‑d in the creation process seems to be almost matter of factly recalled in the Torah unlike the other nine which are introduced by the phrase "and G‑d said."

The Talmud itself, by its own reference to Psalms to justify its count of the first words of the Torah as one of the ten utterances in the creation process, seems to try to answer this very question. Ramban suggests a different approach to answering this question. Says the Ramban, the heavens and the earth are the primary material from which was derived the balance of creation. They were the very beginning of creation, creation ex nihilo, before which there was nothing. In consequence, G‑d did not need to make a formal statement regarding them. The nine statements of creation after heaven and earth were created were addressed to Heaven and Earth to draw out from them the balance of creation. Surely the Ramban's answer makes sense. More than that it begins to give us an insight into the mystery of creation itself. Primo matter, an amorphus mass, is the source of all life on this planet. A common source for all that exists, an argument for a respect for that ancient interrelationship of all matter today manifest in the issue of humankind's coexistence with itself and nature, surely is one important element we can draw from this analysis of the creation of the world. Yet, just as the Ramban's explanation is rich with meaning and value for us, it seems at the same time to support our original question. For if everything that exists is but an extension of that very first utterance of G‑d that brought into being heaven and earth, as the Ramban asserts, why was it not accentuated, highlighted in some fashion to set it off from the successive nine rather than being recalled in a matter of fact fashion?

I believe the answer may lie in the realm of our spiritual growth more than it may in our understanding of the physical creation alone. We have just bidden farewell to one of the busiest periods on our religious calendar. Holy Day after successive Holy Day no doubt have had an impact upon even the least devout. Gathering with family, realizing anew the great bounty that G‑d bestows upon each of us, especially attunes us to our spiritual dimension, to our awareness of relationship with G‑d. In stark contrast to this Holy Day season we now face a period of time devoid of Holy Days, special rituals to keep us acutely aware of G‑d's presence in our lives and our religious responsibilities resulting from that presence. As represented by the nine utterances, however, there are times when G‑d does demonstrate His presence, an involvement with His creation, in a particular instance. Then there are times, those special moments in our lives, when we seemingly view this wonderful world we live in from a different perspective experiencing G‑d in the magnificence of the natural world. The setting sun, a shimmering lake, a breathtaking landscape, evoke within us a sense of G‑d's presence. These are but fleeting moments however, moments of ecstasy that quickly dissolve into our hum drum daily existence. That momentary spiritual "high," that sense of transcending our physical existence, is that which we crave.

For our Sages remind us that as finite creatures we are ever drawn to the infinite, to union with G‑d. That pristine state of existence in which one is perpetually connected with G‑d, is represented by 'In the beginning G‑d created..." that still small voice which is the very foundation of creation itself. Capturing that still small voice, hearing it in all we encounter, enwrapping ourselves in the all embracing power and love of G‑d, is the challenge of human existence. After all is said and done, after all the unique experiences G‑d offers us to be nearer to Him, to cleave to Him, it is we who must capture in our minds our hearts and our souls the symmetry of life, the all encompassing presence of the power of G‑d in every aspect of existence if we are to truly mature as Jews. Daily awareness of G‑d's presence even in the most insignificant life encounter, cognizance of the presence of G‑d in the totality of creation, is the true religious experience that molds us into the person we should be, the person our tradition represents as exemplary. Searching for that still small voice, the spiritual essence in all that confronts us in life, reveling in it, aiding in its service of G‑d, gives true meaning to our lives. As G‑d now leaves us to this seminal task of life, the task of finding Him in every aspect of creation most importantly within our fellow human beings, may we all rejoice in the knowledge of the unity of all represented in that still small voice "In the beginning G‑d created the heaven and the earth."