Parshat Bereshit: The language of creation
Once upon a time, language was a powerful thing. Parshat Bereshit, the opening chapter of Genesis, tells us of a language so great it held the power to create a world. That language was Hebrew, the same language our ancestors spoke thousands of years ago, the language we speak in Israel, and the language we all listen to once a week in synagogue.
When I think about how the language I work and live in is nothing less than the language of creation, I am reminded once more of the origin of the Jewish passion for Tikkun olam.
Creating out of nothing
In his book, Zero to One, Peter Thiel, whom we all know, mentions the idea of “true” creation. To him, the most successful and important startups in the world are those that manage to go beyond improving an existing thing (from 1 to n) to creating something completely new (o to 1). This idea of creating something out of nothing is present in Thiel’s book, but is not given the full attention it deserves.
In truth, there is a fundamental difference between creation (יצירה) and creation out of nothing (יצירה יש מאין). This difference does not exist in English but is deeply embedded in Hebrew. In Hebrew, the act of creating something out of nothing is called Bri’a (בריאה); the second word in the whole bible (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא).
God, being an entity that embodies the ability to create out of nothing (לברוא), is himself an expression of the paradigm of the entrepreneur. When spoken by God, the command words used in the creation of the world are fulfilled with inexpressible ease:
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי אוֹר
God needs nothing more than the language he speaks, whereas the earthly entrepreneurs need an Ltd, a CEO, angel investors and a team of developers to bring an idea to life. And we the investors all know how hard it is to find a good startup.
That is, if we acknowledge the difference between creation and Bri’a, it follows that humans are creators, while God is the Bore (בורא). To borrow a term from Platonic Idealism, God is the unchangeable Form or Idea (eidos, ἰδέα) of an entrepreneur, and the universe is the unchangeable Form or Idea of a startup. The earthly entrepreneur is closest to God because he or she deals with creation. At the same time, they could never create out of nothing in the strict sense of the term.
Being accurate with ourselves
Not long ago I spent a couple of weeks at a wellness center in Ko Pha-ngan, Thailand. Two weeks of total detox, starting with smartphones, laptops and all those other screens that constantly interrupt us from connecting to the divine.
During that time I had but a few phone calls with the office. To my surprise, my impact from far away Ko Pha-ngan was tremendous, even greater than when I am physically at the TLV office.
I was amazed to see how every conversation involved saying only what absolutely had to be said, nothing more. The limitation I placed on myself enabled us to clear a lot of the noise and finally put an end to the endless blabbering; what Walter Benjamin and Martin Heidegger refer to as pointless speech or the abyss of chatter. Suddenly, every word I spoke had great power.
This experience reminded me of the words of Sadhguru, one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our time. Sadhguru says that when people are accurate with themselves, then whatever they want to happen to them simply happens, naturally and effortlessly.
There is a strong correlation between living correctly and finding the best startups to invest in. Our ability to recognize and invest in the right companies is bound in that personal work of cleansing, first of our thoughts and purpose, then our speech and finally our actions. The more we strive to be exact the more we enhance the power of our words and our ability to create out of nothing.
The root of the Jewish passion to create
Our ability as humans to improve ourselves and be accurate with ourselves comes with a caveat. Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden without having eaten from the tree of life. If Man were to live forever, he would have gone through an endless process of perfection, similar to machine learning, until becoming a God himself. As it says in Genesis, chapter 1:
The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ לָדַעַת טוֹב וָרָע וְעַתָּה פֶּן־יִשְׁלַח יָדוֹ וְלָקַח גַּם מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים וְאָכַל וָחַי לְעֹלָם:
Thanks to their insistence on preserving the Jeiwsh tradition and the Hebrew language from Genesis until today, Jews have managed to perfect their creation abilities to a very high level. The Jewish collective has created a sequence of learning and incremental improvements, as though we were actually a single person, thousands of years old. This Jewish passion to create out of nothing is found at the root of our entrepreneurial faith and power.