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[KE CyberTorah] The Meaning Behind Separation

The Meaning Behind Separation

God’s speech in the Creation story begins with terse powerful words. Let there be light – two words only in the Hebrew, potent enough to become the formation of all that is. As the Creation unfolds, as separation becomes expressed, God becomes more and more loquacious. In creating humanity, God says, Let Us make Adam in our image, after our likeness, and goes on from there, describing a specific destiny and role for humanity to play in the world.

From unity all that is becomes expressed. A static God / Universe unfolds into matter and animals and people. Each part of that former unity achieves an individuality and expression that cannot be uncovered in the sameness and perfection that predates Creation. Before God begins Creating, all things have a wholeness because they are contained in God. Yet that wholeness, for all its peacefulness, is unchanging, unmoving. It predates life but is not yet life.

God chooses to separate, to step away from perfection into change and life and dynamism. Every element and aspect of God, both awareness and matter, become their most full expression. That expression of necessity engenders division and brokenness and sorrow. With it, our appetites emerge as we seek to find a new kind of wholeness.

Amid our separateness, we crave a reconnection. Sometimes, we do so with love, from a place of wanting to understand the uniqueness of the other and to appreciate it for what it is. Other times, our fears lead us to want to consume and dominate, to overwhelm and force our own sense of unity and self onto the other.

Food gives an excellent example. We can eat mindlessly, from hunger, and even to excess. We add on our consumption simply to consume and to fill an inner void. By contrast, we can eat from gratitude and blessing, experiencing a fullness that comes from food and an appreciation that our lives can be sustained at all. This is one meaning of the Shabbat blessing, asking God to “satisfy me with Your goodness.”

Separateness for all its pain and sorrow is necessary. It is through our separateness, our unique selves, that we can wrestle with seeking after true wholeness. Wholeness attained through wisdom and breath, faith uncovered through trial and travail, has an integrity and strength lacking from the wholeness that comes from the absence of separation.

We are taught: God is unlike a human king. When a human king mints a coin, each one looks like the other. When God makes all of us in the image of Adam, we are all unique and of unique value. Saving one life is equivalent to saving all of humanity, for that one life contains infinite worlds that can never be replaced. From simplicity emerges division and uniqueness. The expression of that uniqueness must be valued and preserved and held. 

Too often we seek to smooth over the differences or to bridge the divide by asserting that we are all the same. And yet: God’s powerful words, so tersely spoken, continue to echo and reverberate in Creation. All that is, invited to be. All that is, invited to uncover its otherness, its uniqueness. And all of us, in partnership with God, called upon to treasure that diversity, that separateness, that sacredness.

On the seventh day, God breathed. To hold and be with all that was and is and will be. May this Shabbat give us a chance of breath and renewal so that we can find a wholeness that comes from separation, a sharing that values each experience and story. 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Booth

Tue, September 26 2023 11 Tishrei 5784