I believe, with complete faith, that the creator – blessed be his name – He creates and guides for all of creation, and he alone made, makes and will make all things.
(Thirteen Principles of Faith: 1)
Where We Begin
Judaism’s Thirteen Principles of Faith begin with the need to recognize Hashem as creator of the world. This philosophical focus on creation deepens our appreciation of why the Torah also begins with this topic. One might have thought that the Torah begins this way merely because creation was the world’s historical beginning. The Principles of Faith beginning this way as well teaches us that creation is not just where our world began historically, but also where it begins philosophically.
Recognizing Hashem as creator facilitates a proper perspective on the world and everything in it.
Most significantly, this recognition helps us appreciate that Hashem is the world’s true owner. As Rebbi Elazar Ish Bartuta taught: “Give Him (Hashem) what is His, because you and that which is yours are really His” (Avot 3:7). When we donate our money, time or effort to Hashem, we naturally assume that we are giving Him something that is our own. In truth, we are merely giving Him what is (already) His. This is why Hashem formulates the donations to the Mishkan as “v’yikchu li terumah” (Shemot 25:2). It is Hashem taking what is His, not the Jewish People giving a donation.
Rashi begins his commentary to the Torah with a similar idea. He explains that the Torah begins with the creation narrative (rather than with the first mitzvah) in order to teach us where our rights to Eretz Yisrael come from. The response to those who brand our settlement of Israel as thievery is that Hashem created and (therefore) owns the world and thus rightfully distributes lands as He sees fit.
Hashem’s ownership of the world also gives Him the right to set the conditions for its existence. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks described it this way:
The Torah is not a book of science. It is a book of law. That is what the word “Torah” means. It follows that the opening chapter of the Torah is not a scientific account but a legal one. It is not an answer to the question, “How was the universe born?” It is an answer to a different question entirely: “By what right does G-d command human beings?” The answer is: because He created the universe. Therefore He owns the universe. Therefore He is entitled to lay down the conditions on which He permits us to inhabit the universe. This is the basis of all biblical law. G-d rules not by might but by right – the right of a creator vis-à-vis his creation and He has the right to give direction to those living in the world as to how to live their lives (We Are What We Do Not Own, Covenant and Conversation, Behar 2018).”
We express and reinforce our appreciation of Hashem as creator and thus owner by reciting berachot before deriving pleasure from His world. These berachot all describe Hashem as creator of the type of food we are about to it. Our recognition of Hashem as creator permits us to partake of and enjoy His creations (Berachot 35b).
We reaffirm this recognition each Yom Rishon (which parallels the first day of creation) when we recite the pesukim “LaHashem ha’aretz u’meloah teivel v’yoshvei vah. Ki Hu al yamim yisadah v’al neharot yichonenehah” (Tehillim 24:1-2) as part of that day’s shir shel yom. These pesukim recognize Hashem’s ownership over two distinct components of the world: the frameworks (aretz and teivel) and the content (melo’ah and yoshvei vah). During the first three days of creation, Hashem created the frameworks; during the last three, he filled them with content and inhabitants.
The Value of Each Creation
Hashem’s creation of the world should also enhance our appreciation of everything in existence. The objects and phenomena we find in our world are not coincidental. They were created intentionally by Hashem, and thus have great significance.
Ben Azai taught: “Do not be scornful of any person and do not be disdainful of any thing, for each person has his hour and each thing has its place” (Avot 4:3). This idea is rooted in Sefer Kohelet, which explains its assertion that “everything has its time” by adding that “Hashem made everything beautiful in its proper time” (Kohelet 3:1,11).
This is how the Ba’al HaTanya (1:32) explained Chazal’s usage of the term “briyot (creations)” when discouraging hatred and encouraging love of all people (Avot 1:12, 2:11).
The term includes even those we see nothing positive in but for the fact that Hashem created them. Our realization that Hashem created them should give us enough reason to (find reasons to) love them.
Ben Azai encourages us to appreciate not only people, but every creation. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:22) famously tells us that Hashem created everything for a purpose. Even small creatures like frogs and spiders (can) serve as his emissaries. Another Midrash (Otze Midrashim, Aleph-Bet of Ben Sira p.47) explains that, because David HaMelech doubted the value of spiders, Hashem arranged for him to need their help when hiding from Shaul.
Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch extended this to every leaf of every tree. While on a leisurely walk, his young son Yosef Yitzchok (the Freidiker Rebbe) absentmindedly plucked a leaf off a tree. Surprised, the father turned to his son and admonished him for his seemingly harmless action: “The leaf you tore from its branch was created by the Ribbono Shel Olam for a specific purpose! It’s alive, its physical structure is akin to a body, it’s imbued with a Divine life-force, it’s guided by hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence). Every blade of grass, every leaf on every tree is invested with G-d’s own vitality, created intentionally, each with a Divine spark, part of a ‘soul’ that has descended to earth to find its correction and fulfillment. How can you be so callous towards a creation of G-d?” (Quoted by Rav Judah Mischel: The Tree of Life, Hamizrachi, Tu B’Shvat 5781).
The Rishonim extended this idea to include even natural phenomena. The Ramban’s approach to sexuality is an excellent example. We see his approach in his response to the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:8) who saw the Hebrew language’s lack of words to describe sexual organs and activities as a sign of the language’s holiness. The Ramban disagreed strongly with the Rambam’s explanation and proved the holiness of sexual relations from the fact that Hashem created them: “All ‘owners of Torah’ believe that Hashem created everything in His infinite wisdom. He did not create anything meant to be negative or disgusting” (Igeret HaKodesh 2). For the Ramban, if Hashem created sexual organs and the sexual act, they cannot be negative or disgusting.
Rav Kook expanded this idea beautifully: “Anyone who thinks in a pure, godly way cannot hate or denigrate any creation or ability found in our world” (Orot HaKodesh 3, p.237). He explains further that hatred and denigration are rooted in our choice to focus on what is lacking instead of identifying and appreciating the positive potential G-d imbues within His creations.
We often see the contents of our world as mundane and insignificant. Chazal remind us that everything was created by Hashem – and should be appreciated as such.
May our reflection upon the beginning of the Torah and of our Principles of Faith, (both of which remind us that we live in Hashem’s world) ensure our proper perspective on the world and everything within it.
Write-up by Adina Lev and Rafi Davis.