Thursday, December 8, 2016

Of Skies and Hearts Aflame- partnering with HaShem in creation

Still groggy, I started my car, and began to drive. As I looked up, I saw one of the most breathtaking things I had ever seen. The sky over New York City was a stunning color of red. It brought to mind a fire, but one that provides warmth, rather than one that consumes. Over the next few minutes as I drove, I snuck in quick glances to witness this beautiful scene, before sunrise would make it disappear. For me, it was a truly religious experience. As the sky grew lighter, and the color began to change, I felt a mixture of sublime joy at the sight, and sadness, knowing it would soon be gone. My eyes kept on hungrily drinking in the the scene, but then suddenly, the beauty was gone. A large, dirty highway sign announcing the next exit, blocked the horizon. This man-made blight had ruined my last opportunity to see the NYC sky aflame one last time.

I began to think of why the juxtaposition between the sky and sign had been so jarring. At first, I thought it might be the difference between nature and things made by man. I quickly realized that wasn’t the case. Part of the beauty of the scene that I had glanced was the NYC skyline. The red sky by itself would have been beautiful, but with the skyscrapers beneath it, it was spectacular. Additionally, there are things in nature which are unpleasant, or even painful, to see. So what bothered me so much? Suddenly, I thought of a passuk from Parshas Bereishis. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ- And HaShem said to them “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the land, and conquer it etc.”.

What does it mean to conquer the earth? To me, conquering brings to mind the idea of violence. One conquers in war. Destruction occurs before the opponent, through surrender or death, is subdued. What does God ask of us when he says the word וְכִבְשֻׁהָ? Are we truly meant to defeat the land? Should we build, dig, and manufacture with no thoughts of the violence we bring about to the earth itself, as well as to our own need for beauty?

I’d like to suggest that, homiletically at least, the word וְכִבְשֻׁהָ comes from the word כבש, ramp. This word is found by the altar in the Beis HaMikdash. The purpose of the ramp is to allow human beings to go up to a place of holiness. Man builds a structure through which he can draw close to God. When HaShem says וְכִבְשֻׁהָ, he does not ask us to conquer, or even to subdue the world, but rather to use human creativity and ingenuity to build things which are ramps, objects through which we have the opportunity to reach a more lofty place of holiness. We are asked to partner with God in how we change the world. Build buildings, roads, and yes, road signs, but look for ways to make these things more than utilitarian. Man, through his building can help God build a fire of warmth, rather than one which consumes.

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