The Lore of Return

There is a striking passage brought in the tractates of Pesachim and Nedarim

שבעה דברים נבראו קודם שנברא העולם ואלו הן תורה תשובה גן עדן וגיהנום כסא הכבוד ובית המקדש ושמו של  משיח 

Seven things were created even before the world was created: Torah and Teshuvah- repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenom, a Throne of Honor, the Temple, the name of the Messiah

.—Talmud Pesachim 54a Nedarim 39b

This is a fascinating list, though on this week of Shabbat Shuva, in the midst of the ten days of repentance, our interest is focussed around Teshuvah. What is behind this concept of creation before creation? Perhaps this speaks to the foundations in the sense of what is required in order to sustain the world  and or keep things standing? If so, why these seven, what is missing? 

Was sin also created that required the inclusion of Teshuvah? Is this a pessimistic approach perhaps reflecting the יצר לב האדם רע מנעוריו… The devisings of the human mind are evil from youth;  ( בראשית ח:כא  ) –  In this gloomy outlook, is Teshuvah preempting the inevitable or does the inclusion of Teshuvah empower optimism? What is the quality of teshuvah that it is considered or portrayed as holding up the world.

Rav Soloveitchik in his “On Repentance” argues that the phenomena itself of being able to repent and return to God is counterintuitive. It is because of the kindness the chesed of God that this is possible at all. This kindness , Middat Harachamim, this attribute of mercy was according to Rashi on the opening of Bereishit, was critical and perhaps preempted creation. Rashi arrives at this profound insight through the name of God used in the opening bars of the Torah; 

ברא אלהים וְלֹא נֶאֱמַר בָּרָא ה’, שֶׁבַּתְּחִלָּה עָלָה בְמַחֲשָׁבָה לִבְרֹאתוֹ בְּמִדַּת הַדִּין, רָאָה שֶׁאֵין הָעוֹלָם מִתְקַיֵּם, הִקְדִּים מִדַּת רַחֲמִים וְשִׁתְּפָהּ לְמִהַ”דִּ, וְהַיְינוּ דִּכְתִיב בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת ה’ אֱלֹהִים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם 

ברא אלהים GOD [AS JUDGE] CREATED — It does not state ‘ברא ה “The Lord (the Merciful One) created, because at first God intended to create it (the world) to be placed under the attribute (rule) of strict justice, but He realized that the world could not thus endure and therefore gave precedence to Divine Mercy allying it with Divine Justice. It is to this that what is written in (Genesis 2:4) alludes — “In the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven”. 

The idea is further illustrated stunningly in Psalms 89:3 

כִּֽי־אָמַ֗רְתִּי ע֭וֹלָם חֶ֣סֶד יִבָּנֶ֑ה שָׁמַ֓יִם ׀ תָּכִ֖ן אֱמוּנָתְךָ֣ בָהֶֽם׃ 

This world was built with love/ loving kindness. This is the profundity of this gift. Enabling the ability not only to return to God, but also to ourselves to our very essence and innocence at the beginning of time or more poignantly before the beginning of time.

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter and serves on faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He was a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, following which he was the Executive Director for Jewish Renewal at the UJIA in England. Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion.
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