Creating New Worlds
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From Rabbi David
Inspired by Rabbi Avi Strausberg
On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the birth of this world that God created. In Musaf, the additional service, we sang, "Today is the day the world was birthed." In the section of Zikhronot (Remembrances), we remember and acknowledge God as the One Who was there from the beginning of creation, the One Who brought all creatures into this world.
On Rosh Hashanah, the world is created, and God is its Creator. But, we, too, like God, are creators of worlds.
Our children wake up every morning and create new worlds. One day, they may be an explorer out at sea; another day they may be a nurse, doctor, teacher or builder. On yet another day, they live in a world where dinosaurs still roam the earth. And as quickly as they create worlds - they destroy them.
In his essay, "Destruction and Building," Rabbi Natan Zvi Finkel teaches that this is what it means to be human: we, like God, are creators of worlds. Rabbi Finkel, also known as the Alter of Slobodka, points to a midrash from Bereishit Rabbah (3:7), which imagines God creating and destroying many worlds before finally arriving at our world. According to the midrash, time after time, God would create worlds only to destroy them, and each time God would say, "These do not please me."
Finally, God arrives at our world, and God says, "This one pleases me." Our world passes the test. Our world is allowed to stand, but only on the ruins of so many previous iterations. The successful creation of the world is only made possible by the creation and destruction of previous attempts.
As adults we easily forget that we were once creators of worlds. What comes so easily to children is more difficult for us. Even more difficult is accepting that sometimes new creations are built on the ruins of what has been destroyed. This lesson runs contrary to what we instinctively believe, that destruction marks the end of something. We mourn the loss of the thing that came before; it is difficult for us to imagine a way forward out of the wreckage. Rabbi Finkel teaches us that, rather than seeing destruction simply as ruins, we must also look for the wisdom contained within destruction.
There are times when, like God, we have to take apart in order to reassemble, when demolition serves the purpose of new construction. But there are also times when destruction is forced upon us, when walls crumble against our will and for no greater purpose. In situations where destruction is foisted upon us, what lessons can we glean from the brokenness? How can this learning help us ensure that the next world is a better world?
We have all seen so much destruction this past year. It is our duty to mourn but also to build a new world for ourselves and our children: A world which is more safe, healthy, equitable, joyful and accepting. Perhaps we begin this work by following the lead of our children and believing that we have the capacity to imagine and to build new worlds. This is our job for this year - and every year.