Can Human Beings Create? (Daf Yo.Me Brachos 52)

What is the most important human invention of all time?  The automobile?  The telephone?  The aeroplane?  The internet?  None of these would have been possible were it not for the first human invention: fire.

After Six Days of Creation, G-d rested on the seventh.  Following His final creation of humankind, Adam and Eve spend their first Shabbos enjoying the world they had entered.  But then Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night) arrives and it gets dark.  The first couple fumbles around, trying to find a way to see one another.  All of a sudden, they are imbued with a flash of inspiration and Adam rubs two stones together.  A spark ignites and a fire is started.

To commemorate the very first – and arguably, the most important – human invention, each Motzei Shabbos at the Havdallah service, we light a candle and bless Hashem for creating the lights of fire. But is that accurate?  Did G-d create fire or did Adam?  In our Talmudic story, it appears that Adam created fire.  Indeed, the Havdallah tradition each Saturday night commemorates Adam’s achievement on the very first Saturday night.  Moreover, if G-d was the creator, fire should have appeared during the Six Days of Creation!  Who then created fire and when was it created?

בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים: ״שֶׁבָּרָא מְאוֹר הָאֵשׁ״, וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים: ״בּוֹרֵא מְאוֹרֵי הָאֵשׁ״.
אָמַר רָבָא: בְּ״בָרָא״ כּוּלֵּי עָלְמָא לָא פְּלִיגִי דְּבָרָא מַשְׁמַע. כִּי פְּלִיגִי בְּ״בוֹרֵא״, בֵּית שַׁמַּאי סָבְרִי ״בּוֹרֵא״ דַּעֲתִיד לְמִבְרָא, וּבֵית הִלֵּל סָבְרִי ״בּוֹרֵא״ נָמֵי דִּבְרָא מַשְׁמַע. מֵתִיב רַב יוֹסֵף: ״יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ״, ״יוֹצֵר הָרִים וּבוֹרֵא רוּחַ״, ״בּוֹרֵא הַשָּׁמַיִם וְנוֹטֵיהֶם״. אֶלָּא אָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף: בְּ״בָרָא״ וּ״בוֹרֵא״ כּוּלֵּי עָלְמָא לָא פְּלִיגִי דְּבָרָא מַשְׁמַע, כִּי פְּלִיגִי בִּ״מְאוֹר״ וּ״מְאוֹרֵי״. דְּבֵית שַׁמַּאי סָבְרִי חֲדָא נְהוֹרָא אִיכָּא בְּנוּרָא, וּבֵית הִלֵּל סָבְרִי טוּבָא נְהוֹרֵי אִיכָּא בְּנוּרָא. תַּנְיָא נָמֵי הָכִי, אָמְרוּ לָהֶם בֵּית הִלֵּל לְבֵית שַׁמַּאי: הַרְבֵּה מְאוֹרוֹת יֵשׁ בָּאוֹר.

Mishnah: Beis Shammai says: Who created [bara] the light of fire. And Beis Hillel says: Who creates [boreh] the lights of fire.

Gemara: Rava says: With regard to the word bara, everyone agrees that it means created in the past. Where they disagree is with regard to the word boreh. Beis Shammai holds Boreh means that God will create in the future, and Beis Hillel holds Boreh also means that He has created in the past.  Rav Yosef raised an objection from the following verses employing boreh in the past: “Who forms light and creates [boreh] darkness”, “Who forms mountains and creates [boreh] wind”, or “Who creates [boreh] the heavens and stretches them out”. Rather, said Rav Yosef: With regard to both bara and boreh, everyone agrees that they mean created. Where they disagree is with regard to the light of the fire or the lights of the fire. As Beis Shammai holds that there is one light in a fire, and Beis Hillel holds that there are many lights in a fire. That was similarly taught: Beis Hillel said to Beis Shammai: There are many lights in the fire.

According to the Vilna Gaon (SE), the debate between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel concerns whether we are blessing Hashem for the fire that we are enjoying right here and now or for the very first fire that He created.  Rav Yosef concludes that both schools of thought agree that their respective formulae refer to the original fire that G-d created.  Why then does Beis Hillel insist on a verb form that would seem to imply the present tense?

When we say that work is forbidden on Shabbos, what exactly do we mean?  Is it work to boil the kettle to make a cup of tea?  Is it work to carry a pile of chairs into the dining room when extra guests arrive unexpectedly?  While the former is proscribed, the latter is permitted, despite the strenuous exertion required.  As far as Shabbos is concerned, work is defined as creative activity.  Just like G-d ceased creative activity on the seventh day, so too, we desist from creative activity on Shabbos.  On Motzei Shabbos, when we begin our week, we return to our world of creative activity.

But, let’s think about that notion for a moment.  How many of us are actually able to create anything?  When we boil the kettle, undoubtedly we bring about a new substance, called hot water.  But did we really create it?  Of course not.  All we did was to reshape it from cold water to hot.  Hashem created the water, and we applied certain physical pressures to it – in this case, heat – and the water boiled.

When Adam created fire for the very first time on that first Motzei Shabbos, did he actually create it?  In reality, its potential existed in the two stones prior to Adam’s decision to rub them together.  Hashem had already created fire during the Six Days of Creation.  Humankind, however, had not yet discovered the fire hidden in nature.  When Adam performed the creative act of producing fire, he was not actually creating anything.  He was merely discovering.  Nevertheless, since it appears as if he created, it is forbidden on Shabbos.

Both Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel recognize that everything in this world that humans have created, or invented, is not an actual creation, but a discovery of one of G-d’s creations that He buried deep within nature, until the time would be right for us to discover it.  Thomas Edison didn’t create the lightbulb.  He might have invented it, but the true definition of invention is the discovery of a creation that the Almighty hid within nature during the Six Days.  Every light in this world was already ‘created’ by Hashem.

The difference between the Havdallah bracha formulae offered by Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel pertains to how we view each modern invention.  Beis Shamai is not particularly moved and amazed by our human ‘creativity’. Every invention, in their mind, may be traced to the original singular flame of fire that G-d hid within the rock that Adam discovered.  When we light the Havdallah candle, we’re reminded that everything comes from that light, hence the formula “Who created the light of fire.”

Beis Hillel, by contrast, is inspired by every manifestation of the original flame, as it has developed in each era of human existence.  When they see the Havdallah flame, they see flames that have been created throughout the millennia of human creativity and continue to be created.  True, all of our incredible inventions emanate from the original flame that G-d created.  Nevertheless, most human beings cannot relate to the multiple steps that connect a flint stone to an electric car.  And so the formula is that G-d “creates flames of fire,” in the present and plural tense.  The Havdallah candle reminds us that every human invention is a Divine creation.  G-d inspired and continues to inspire human beings to discover His creation of yore, hidden deep within nature.  Havdallah is our weekly opportunity to express our appreciation to Heaven for the wonders of modern technology.

The Almighty created us, and then called upon us to become His partners in creation.  When we strive to discover the secrets He has hidden in nature, we fulfil His vision.  While it might not be strictly accurate that we are creators, He nonetheless wants us to feel like we are joining Him in the act of creation.  May you merit to partner with G-d while always acknowledging that every human invention was already prepared by Hashem during the Six Days of Creation!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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