Anson Laytner
Anson Laytner

Pondering Creation (Thoughts on Genesis 1)

Rabbi Yonah said in the name of Rabbi Levi: Why was the world created with a “ב” (bet)? Just as a bet is closed on all sides and open in the front, so you are not permitted to say, “What is beneath? What is above? What came before? What will come after?” Rather from the day the world was created and after. (Bereisheet Rabba 1:10)

Is it possible that all these years I have been misunderstanding God’s place in the Creation story of Bereisheet/Genesis 1?

I have always assumed that, based on this story, God was the creator of everything: life on our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, the universe.

But then I had a sudden insight: I was transposing my modern understanding of the cosmos onto the Torah’s understanding of the universe.

In the modern view, our planet is an infinitesimal dot in an expanding universe; in the Biblical view, everything is terra-centric, literally meaning that our planet is at the center of things.

With this in mind, I turned once again to the Creation myth of Bereisheet/Genesis 1.

God is still the creator, with the divine wind or spirit inspiring all that follows: the creation of some form of light, its separation from darkness, and their designation as some kind of cosmic “day” and “night” in what had previously been unformed; the creation of the firmament or space separating the waters above (skies) from the waters below, which in turn enabled God to separate dry land from the seas; the creation of vegetative life on this planet; then the creation of the sun, moon and stars, all set in the firmament above the earth; and finally aquatic and terrestrial life, including human beings.

The point of this all-too-familiar recitation is to note that in Bereisheet/Genesis only our planet is teeming with life; our planet, alone, with all the stars of the universe centered about it. All of God’s creating was done to establish and maintain life on Earth. Although we’ve rearranged the cosmos somewhat, to the best of our knowledge the rest of the universe is barren; only our planet maintains life–at least as we understand it.

Looking at this differently, might it be said that God is source of life on this planet alone, and, were life to be found on some distant planet in some galaxy far, far away, the mystery we call God would not be the source of life there? Perhaps we are the beneficiaries of a small God, not the almighty universal God who created galaxy upon galaxy without end.

What if God created and sustains life on earth perhaps in the way the Gaia hypothesis suggests, here and nowhere else? And what if we are all but God’s inspiration (and expiration), small parts of a living divine whole as our mystics have maintained done through the ages?

Does this make the Creator any less god-like or any less worthy of our thanks and praise?

It makes me wonder…

About the Author
Rabbi Anson Laytner of Seattle is currently president of the Sino-Judaic Institute and longtime editor of its journal Points East. He is the co-editor, with Jordan Paper, of "The Chinese Jews of Kaifeng." Before retiring, he taught at Seattle University and worked with the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. His most recent book is "The Mystery of Suffering and the Meaning of God."
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