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“Chaos. Order. Chaos.” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

Friday, October 1, 2021

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, our weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.

Order does not replace chaos. It just organizes it. Chaos remains ever present.

Consider moments of uncertainty, vulnerability, and dis-ease.

The book of Genesis inaugurates our understanding of chaos.

I used to think that the creation of the world transformed chaos into order, at least in the way the Torah begins. When God created the world, there was tohu v’vohu, rumblings of indistinct sounds and a disarray of radiances in the void, all part of the primordial soup of darkness, wind, and water

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

…the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and God’s breath hovering over the water—                                                                                     (Gen. 1:2)

As God separates out light and darkness with day and night and forms the waters above and waters below as the heavens and the land, darkness and water still remain.  God assigns them a place but does not necessarily guarantee order.

As we continue moving through Genesis, chaos reappears again and again. Eve confronts the snake who twists her world around by confounding her understanding of what tree in the Garden of Eden she may taste of its fruit. The humans discover the naked truth that they have power and agency, but in a world they can no longer predict. Their task, exiled from Eden, will be to find order in chaos. They are not the only ones confronting a world out of order. The next generation quickly creates disorder. Cain killed his brother out of the chaotic rage of rivalry and fury and spent the rest of his life as a restless wanderer.

Did God create order and human beings, by their behavior, continually return us to chaos? By the time we reach the conclusion of this week’s portion, we find God greatly distressed:

וַיַּ֣רְא יְהֹוָ֔ה כִּ֥י רַבָּ֛ה רָעַ֥ת הָאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְכׇל־יֵ֙צֶר֙ מַחְשְׁבֹ֣ת לִבּ֔וֹ רַ֥ק רַ֖ע כׇּל־הַיּֽוֹם׃
The Eternal saw how great was humanity’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by their mind was nothing but evil all the time.

וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם יְהֹוָ֔ה כִּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ׃
And God regretted that God had made humans on earth, and God’s heart was saddened.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהֹוָ֗ה אֶמְחֶ֨ה אֶת־הָאָדָ֤ם אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָ֙אתִי֙ מֵעַל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה מֵֽאָדָם֙ עַד־בְּהֵמָ֔ה עַד־רֶ֖מֶשׂ וְעַד־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם כִּ֥י נִחַ֖מְתִּי כִּ֥י עֲשִׂיתִֽם׃
The ETERNAL said, “I will blot out from the earth the humans whom I created—humans together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.”
(Gen 6: 5-7)

We see here that even God felt out of control, that chaos reigned over order as manifest in the behavior of human beings.

The truth we discover as we open the Torah and begin again to explore its path verse by verse is that the world as created and then inhabited by human beings is filled with chaos, some produced by humans themselves and some by the unpredictable disorder of the universe that brings uncertainty, vulnerability, and dis-ease upon us.

Maya Angelou, of blessed, memory wrote in her poem, “When Great Trees Fall,” about adjusting to the ultimate chaotic experience of losing someone:

…after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always irregularly.
Spaces fill with a kind of
soothing electric vibration…

Chaos doesn’t disappear. It quiets for a time but like the waves on the sea, sometimes it is more rough and turbulent than others, but it doesn’t stop washing up on the shores of our life. We learn to live with it, move with it, and if we are lucky to bring order to it.

Being part of community and having the strength of a spiritual tradition to guide us lets us know that we don’t have to face chaos alone. Despite it and because of it, we have one another.

Shabbat Shalom!

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