Letters II – Dec. 2007

Creation vs. Formation

Beth: Rabbi, I have a translation / interpretation question. Isaiah 45:6,7 says: “In order that those (people) shall know, from the east of the sun and her west, that there is nothing but Me, I am God and there is no other. Forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating evil – I am God doing all these things.”

God did not “create” darkness, but He created something positive, light. Subsequent to its creation, its removal is what we term darkness. In that sense, God created darkness. Similarly, hunger cannot be created, but a stomach and nerves can be created, which, when empty, will sense hunger. This explains, as Maimonides teaches, why the term “yatzar” is applied only to light and peace in our verse, for these are real creations. (See the Hebrew of the verse) But darkness and evil are termed “bara”, which does not imply positive creation, rather, a causal relationship. God is the creator of darkness, in as much as He created light with the ability for it to be diminished. I thought that "bara" meant "he created (ex nihilo)." So I was very surprised by your article. And confused, too.  

If "bara" does not imply positive creation, rather, a causal relationship, then how would we understand Breishit 1:1? I mean, what did God "yatzar" that established a causal relationship with ha-shamayim and ha-aretz? What THING did God "yatzar" such that - in that THING's absence or diminishment - we perceive ha-shamayim and ha'aretz? Put another way, in what respect do we consider ha-shamayim and ha-aretz to be a lacking of some THING?

Mesora: "Bara" (created) refers to that which God created ex nihilo – from nothing. Therefore, in the Torah, the heavens, Earth, and man's soul are referred to as "bara", created from nothing. But man's instinctual portion - "nefesh chaim" (Gen. 2:7) - and other formations are referred to as "yatzar", to mold from existing matter.

Maimonides states (Guide, Book II chap. 30) that "bara" is used when referring to creation ex nihilo. But also – as Isaiah states – when referring to darkness. Maimonides says that darkness is the absence of something...i.e., light. Thus, bara is appropriately used to refer to the "creation" of darkness, as it too – just like ex nihilo – refers to God's creation, when He is not relating to any real existence. 

When God created the universe, He was not relating to anything yet in existence, just as when He "creates" darkness. Darkness is not a real existence. But when referring to God's acting upon something 'already' in existence, the term yatzar is used, describing a "molding" of that which already exists. Thus, light was "yatzar" – as Maimonides teaches – as it is an accident in an already existing body. Light may be correctly viewed as type of color...albeit much more intense tha typical colors. Color is perceived by light emanating from any surface, and reaching our eyes. Thus, color and light are "yatzar", as they are actions upon an already existing body.

"Heart" & "Soul"?

Reader: When R' Saadia Gaon in his Sefer Emunos V'deyos talks about the soul and says that it is seated in the heart and says what the soul is made of which sounds like its a physical entity, my question is we know the soul is not a physical entity so what does R' Saadia mean?

Mesora: In the Shima prayer, the Torah says man must love God with all your "heart" and with all your "soul". Perhaps God's use of the heart separate from the soul, is as Rashi teaches; the heart is a metaphor for the two halves of man: his intellect (soul) and his instincts. So loving God with "all" your heart, refers to the two halves of man. With all your "soul" Rabbi Akiva teaches, is that even if our soul – or life – is to be taken, we must still love God. So the soul is referred to as part of the heart, and also as an independent reference in loving God with all your soul. The former is the license for Saadia Gaon to refer to the heart as the 'seat' of the soul, since it refers to both: the soul and the instincts. But truly, the soul is not physical, but is merely dependent upon a functioning heart to operate on Earth. Thus, heart is directly associated with the soul.

"Our" Bodies?

Reader: My wife and I are residents in a Jewish retirement community.  We are preparing funeral instructions, and although we have been members  of a Conservative synagogue most of our lives we are seriously considering cremation instead of burial.   I would appreciate your comments on the most recent Halacha or

other positions on cremation.    Thank you for your response.

Mesora: Cremation violates Torah laws. Rabbi Reuven Mann explained that it is derived from the verse "for you shall surely bury him on that day" and the Oral Law also forbids it. Thus, burial is the Torah way, not cremation. Furthermore, God owns our bodies, and following His bural rites is a no-compromise situation. Conversely, cremation – or any Torah violation in connection with our bodies – displays our false sense that our bodies are ours to do with as we please. But in fact, our bodies are "on loan".

We all must answer to Him when we die. Certainly, we must not violate His word via cremation AS we die, so close to coming before Him in judgment.