Bereshit Bara Elokim

“Bereshit Bara Elokim”

The usual translation is, “In the beginning of God’s creating” (Genesis 1:1)

In the very first volume of the Zohar, toward the very beginning of that volume, we discuss the very first line of the Torah. In that, the very first utterance of our mythos, we learn who our deity truly is.

Kabalist Daniel Matt gives us the following, rather brilliant translation, based on the teachings of the Zohar: “In the beginning, _______ created Elokim.”

Maybe you’ve heard this drash before. There’s no novelty here, not insofar as the Jewish tradition is concerned. So, I’m going to take it a step further.

What are words? What are names? Why are certain things totally unutterable?

Once we have expressed something, we have used language. Language is one of the surest signs that culture is beginning to take place. Elokim isn’t just a name for God, it is a Hebrew name for God.

How does the Torah come into being? First, and foremost, the Ineffable created our cultural manifestation of deity, the first of two main characters in the narrative of the Hebrew mythos. Yes, you read that right. The Zohar, and one of the world’s most famous living Kabalists, up and admitted it. We know that the God-with-names that we worship is a hand-puppet, a thing created by the true and nameless Creator… whom we also worship. So now there are two gods in Judaism?

Not exactly. We can think of the Creator as the pure spiritual essence of God, able to create only spiritual things. Elokim is the Nashama of God, able to speak to the Universe directly, but only in the base code of the universe. “Let there be light!” says Elokim in the first creation, and there is light. But we don’t see Elokim addressing humans other than in the sense of talking to their biological nature, “be fruitful and multiply” and defining humans as a biological species destined to use the environment intensively. (Genesis 1:28)

It is not until we get to YHVH that we have something manifest enough to speak to humans as human speak to one another. YHVH is the personality of our particular manifestation… I’d almost use the word “incarnation.”

Even better, we can think of the unutterable, nameless part of God as the part we don’t experience, and the other parts of God as the ones that we, as Jews, do. More on that later.

Hold onto your hat, it gets weirder.

Kabalists will tell you that Torah is the blue-print for the world. The Orthodox Jews have the understanding that “Torah” is more than just what is printed in the five books. It is also the tradition of the laws created by the generations of Sages, and even the teachings of more modern rabbis like Maimonides and Rashi.

While Christians parade around with their signs saying that it is evil not to do exactly what the Bible says, Jews who are Torah observant are busy not doing exactly what Bible says. We don’t practice Levitical marriage, anymore, for example. Why?

“Lo b’shamayim hi” — She is not in Heaven (Deuteronomy 30:12)

Every child in Hebrew school knows that God gave the Hebrew people the Torah. Maybe you’ve even heard the midrash that God offered it to every other nation, that every other nation said no. God gave us, and only us, the Torah.

No, really, seriously, God gave us the Torah. Like, in the way you give someone an apple. Lo b’shomayim hi! It’s not up there in heaven anymore because we have it! God can’t change the Torah because God no longer has it. Can we? Oh, yes. Yes, we can.

‘Decide according to the majority’ (Exodus 23:2).

This principle is the origin of Talmudic law. When the Great Sanhedrin stood, truly major laws could be over-turned for the good of the nation. When it didn’t stand, we had less power, but even so, the law did change. We still make rulings. But surely, the Jewish tradition must consider the words of God to pre-empt the words of the Sages.

“My son, be more careful in the observance of the words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah.” (Eruvin 21b)

Use your good sense. Read what’s in the Pentateuch. Not everything in there is advisable, merciful, or good. Jews don’t say that out loud much, but we all sort of know that if we obeyed the laws of the “Old Testament” as written, the result would be bedlam and evil. Exhibit A: Fundamentalist Christians.

The world, at that time, when the plain words of the Torah were revealed, was bedlam and evil. The Torah was only a reflection of what the world was like at that time. When Kabalists discuss the work of Kabalah as “Tikkun Olam,” literally, “saving the world,” or when we discuss the idea that we are partners with God in creation, we mean that by studying Torah, by making rulings from a place of knowledge and understanding, especially of Kabalah, we are changing the entire world from its very metaphysical foundations.

The other nations didn’t want the Torah. Most people don’t want to see what goes into the soup. They just want to eat the soup, even if it happens to contain a cow anus or two. If they can’t perceive it, it’s all good. Jews said, “yes, show me the ingredient list.”

The inevitable, “HOLY HELL I WAS EATING THAT SHIT??” followed almost immediately.

This is where the analogy breaks down. Plenty of people read and study Torah, but don’t follow it. It isn’t until you are immersed in it, having to follow it every day, that you begin to see its contradictions and problems with any clarity. As an outside observer, you may know that there are problems, just like, as a person who watches the news but isn’t involved in relief efforts knows that the world has problems. Torah observance is a living reductio ad absurdum of the metaphysical world. Imagine being in the ancient world with people living hard lives, made harder by deities that flatten villages with gigantic bulls that they keep upstairs, demanding human sacrifices, throwing lightning bolts at humans like they were spit balls, and lighting humans on fire, just because. Imagine that no one questioned that.

With the revelation at Sinai, we were really impressed. Then, we started following the Torah. Then, really, not so much impressed at all. The world, we realized, really sucked.

We demanded that the recipe be changed. The personality of God, the part that can speak and interact with us, became offended and said “no,” and killed a few of us (reduction of several incidents in Exodus and Deuteronomy). Somehow, though, between Exodus and the story of Jonah, where God was scolding Jonah for not being kind enough to the non-Jews who were committing many sins, God seems to have changed Its tune.

How did this happen?

“Behold I am prepared and ready to perform the commandment to sanctify the moon, for the sake of the unification of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and His Presence.” (Kiddush Levanah)

Back the fuck up.

Lots of pagans see this as a nod to a God-Goddess dichotomy in Judaism, a hint to our earlier polytheism. That, my friends, would be unexciting by comparison to what you actually just saw. We did not say “Hashem.” We said, “The Holy One Blessed Be He.” Some divinity we cannot name, whose essence defies language? Being unified with “The Presence of God,” (also called Shekhina) or, in short, the part of God we DO experience. Let me gloss this for you in simpler, less liturgical sounding language.

“I am going to do a ritual under the moon to unify the nameless divine with the cultural manifestation we experience.”

Or better, “I am going to change the part of God that we experience to make It more like the part of God we can’t experience, and then glue them back together.”

It is not the Kabalistic way to simply be a consumer of a religious path, reading and accepting a tradition without changing it. Rather, by following the Torah, by learning and by legislating, we use what we recieved to make the metaphysical world the one we want to be living in. The law is evil? We legislate around it! Deity is evil? We use theurgic mind control rituals to change the deity’s personality, with the bedside manner of a professional surgeon.

That is what you need to understand about the Jews. There is a second divinity in the Jewish mythos, one that stands toe to toe and eye to eye with Hashem, and it is the Jew who has received, truly received, the Torah.

As a corollary to this: studying and observing Torah is powerful. We DO NOT want people to go back to the “fundamentals” of the Bible and to follow exactly what is written there. That encourages our deity to behave like the violent, angry, misogynistic lunatic we found in the desert. Seriously, that’s our cultural text, and our cultural god. Quit that shit instantly.

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11 Responses to Bereshit Bara Elokim

  1. godnoble says:

    First off, the idea that our worship changes our deities equally to how it changes ourselves is really intriguing. It has great implications for all religions, but especially revivalist ones.

    Back in the day when each nation lived in its own country and interacted only with its neighbors, a possessive attitude towards culture worked fine. It was basic tribalism and kept the genetic lines ‘pure’. In the modern era, however, different religions are constantly interacting. Jews are particularly far-flung, living in other nations’ countries for centuries.
    Thus, an attitude of ‘this is my religion, hands off’, combined with ‘this is how we change the world’ just won’t fly. You get to change the world but others don’t? Our religions are not our own any more. It’s just one more way we interact with each other. Thus, if I can change a culture to be ‘better’ (by my understanding of Good) by how I worship its deity, and thus make the world better, why shouldn’t I? Besides, you know, the arrogance of presuming that I know what’s ‘better’, but we all do that.

    • ononion says:

      Godnoble,

      Separation for easy discussion is a great idea.

      1. Our religions aren’t our own anymore.

      Let’s think about who owns what religion in terms of property law, shall we? If I write a book, and I publish it, the book is mine. Once I die, my writing passes into the public domain. Seems fair, right? Even if not all countries have this law, it stands to reason that the person who created a thing ought to be the one who gets paid for its use. Also, I’m not getting any use out of it once I’m dead. It also passes into the public domain if I put it there. If I create an image, and I want everyone to be able to use it, I can do that.

      Dead religions that are being resurrected are “public domain” because the ancient people who used to follow those religions aren’t there anymore to own it. Christianity is in the public domain because it put itself there. Christians believe that you can just pick up a Bible and convert. Judaism is not a dead culture, therefore, it gets to say whether or not its intellectual property is in the public domain or not. We say “no.” Judaism doesn’t belong to just anyone. It belongs to those who have been through our rituals of initiation.

    • ononion says:

      2. “You get to change the world but others don’t?”

      I’m sure that other cultures could change the world. I’m not learned enough about pagan cultures to know what rituals and customs they have in place for looking into the deep metaphysical levels of reality, reaching into their deities souls to make edits, and changing the holy laws given by those deities.

      I was under the impression that most other religions don’t do this — not that they couldn’t, just that they don’t.

      Then again, I’m sure that most non-Jews have the impression that Jews don’t, or wouldn’t dare. If you locate a text on the subject of non-Jewish practices and rituals similar to the Jewish legal tradition, or the Jewish tradition of mapping the anatomy of their deity for easy access, or a ritual that implies that the nature of the deity is in some way being influenced on a metaphysical level, please let me know.

    • ononion says:

      3. “Cultures are constantly interacting, therefore nothing is really culturally pure.”

      I hear this a lot. Let’s again, talk about intellectual property.

      http://boingboing.net/2013/01/28/jonathan-coulton-responds-to-f.html

      Jonathan Coulton’s distinctive cover of “Baby Got Back” was recently lifted wholesale and put onto the Fox hit Glee. They didn’t ask his permission, didn’t pay him, didn’t even acknowledge him. Most people agree that it’s pretty awful that Fox did that.

      Not only that, but Fox is selling Coulton’s cover song as a part of the Glee soundtrack, and aren’t even crediting him! He didn’t write the original, but he paid for the rights to the song and adapted it. From Fox? Not to much as a 0.1 second appearance of Coulton’s name in the credits.

      Most people agree that this is a pretty crappy thing that Fox did. But of course, according to your reasoning, it wasn’t crappy, or unfair, because not every single idea was his. No one needed to ask his permission. Legally, it turns out, the law supports you. Yet, aren’t you struck with a sense of unfairness?

      Consider, too, Tenacious D’s “Tribute Song.”

      Totally influenced by “Stairway to Heaven.” Certain riffs from “Stairway to Heaven” are found in “Tribute Song.” Does that mean that Tenacious D doesn’t own the rights to “Tribute”?

      U.S. law says that D owns the song it wrote, even though it was influenced by other artists.

      I’m not going to deny that certain things in Judaism were inspired by various (now deceased) cultures. Those things got into Judaism, however, because of a pressure on the part of those cultures for Jews to assimilate. In other words, riffs lifted with permission (or, included under duress). Much more like D’s “Tribute” than Coulton’s “Baby Got Back.”

      Yet, Christianity lifted our holy text wholesale without permission. Then, it proceeded to steal our mystical texts. Why? To convert us by suggesting that they, and not we, had the definitive tradition regarding our holy text and mythos.

      And what about those who use Kabalah, but are, for one reason or another, saying that our tribal deity is bad, and that Kabalah was invented by pagans?

      Aren’t you struck with some basic sense of unfairness?

  2. godnoble says:

    Separated for easy of discussion.

    What if the aspects of God, Elokim and YHVH and such, are not puppets but lenses? By changing the method of worship, we change the way we perceive the deity? (Also how the deity perceives us and how we perceive each other, but that’s inherent in any change in behavior.) Perhaps the worship in no way alters what the deity does, only what we notice of it and how we take it.

    • ononion says:

      I’m unclear on the distinction you are making, or what you are trying to suggest about divine agency.

      Are you suggesting the monist’s position, that there is simply a single, immobile divine energy that we view in different ways dependent on culture?

      I don’t think that the divine is immobile.

  3. Hurrah for process theology, and a theurgic approach to actively doing it! 🙂

    • ononion says:

      I’m working on a follow up to this where I actually break down Kiddush Levanah to explain it’s theurgic components. Can’t wait to get your reaction.

  4. Iðasfóstri says:

    You are blowing my mind with this. I mean, I agree deities change as the world changes: witness the near-complete lack of animal sacrifice and the complete lack of human sacrifice in … pretty much every reconstructed polytheism. But to do it consciously/temporally/continuously instead of after a gap of time? Consider me your new blog groupie.

  5. Found your blog via your post at Agora at PatheosPagan. [scary fangirling] I love you and want to have your brain babies. [/scary fangirling]

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