Creation and the Repair of the World

Shabbat Bereshit and the Repair of the WorldTHE FIRST SHABBAT after Simchat Torah is the Shabbat of new beginnings. On this day we begin reading the Torah from the start, with the book of Genesis. The Book of Genesis tells the Jewish creation story. This day is called Shabbat Bereshit, and its name refers to the first word in the bible, “bereshit,” which translates to “in the beginning.”

As Shabbat Bereshit approaches, there are many lessons and teachings to reflect upon. Central among these lessons is tikkun olam, or the repair of the world. After Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashannah, during which we strove to better and “repair” ourselves, Shabbat Bereshit reminds us that important, too, is the repair of the world around us.

Jewish author Howard Schwartz writes about how the value of repairing the world is inherent to the Earth and its origins. In his Tikkun piece "How The Ari Created a Myth and Transformed Judaism," Schwartz cites the Kabbalistic myth, "The Shattering of the Vessels" (or "The Gathering of the Sparks") as a midrash deeply embedded in the book of Genesis.

In these stories, the Jewish mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as the Ari), describes God's divine light as it appeared on the first day in the Book of Genesis. The light filled ten vessels, and the vessels were sent toward Earth. The vessels, however, shattered and littered the Earth with sparks. The Ari writes that it is our good deeds, our mitvahs, that will gather these sparks together and slowly repair the world. Shwartz adds, "it should be the aim of everyone to raise these sparks from wherever they are imprisoned and to elevate them to holiness by the power of their soul."

Helpful in exploring the Ari’s myth and the connection between light, sparks and tikkun olam are two PJ library books, Gathering Sparks, by Howard Shwartz and Light by Jane Breskin Zalben.

Gathering Sparks

Gathering Sparks
Author: Howard Schwartz
Illustrator: Kristina Swarner

SYNOPSIS: “Where did all the stars come from?” A grandfather offers an age-old Jewish explanation to his granddaughter and, in the process, teaches her about tikkun olam (repairing the world).


Author: Jane Breskin Zalben
Illustrator: Jane Breskin Zalben

SYNOPSIS: According to a sixteenth-century legend, when the world began the Creator intended to add sparks of light to all creation. Held in a vessel that broke apart, the sparks scattered. The task of people is to gather the sparks and contain them once again, thus repairing our imperfect world. Light is a mythical, poetic retelling of this story.

How is it that God created light on Day One, when the sources of light--the sun, moon and stars--were not created until Day Four? Children are questioning by nature. So, as you and your family discuss Genesis, you might find them asking these clever questions. In the G-dcast video below, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner explains his answers to these interesting questions.

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