The End of the Beginning

A midrash on Genesis 6:1-7. The end of the beginning; the run-up to the rain.

Genesis 6:1. And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2. That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were pretty; and they took as wives all those whom they chose. 3. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for he also is flesh; yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years. 4. There were Nefilim in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them, the same became mighty men of old, men of renown. 5. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6. And the Lord repented that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the birds of the air; for I repent that I have made them. 8. And Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

פרק ו א וַיְהִי֙ כִּי־הֵחֵ֣ל הָאָדָ֔ם לָרֹ֖ב עַל־פְּנֵ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֑ה וּבָנ֖וֹת יֻלְּד֥וּ לָהֶם: ב וַיִּרְא֤וּ בְנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־בְּנ֣וֹת הָאָדָ֔ם כִּ֥י טֹבֹ֖ת הֵ֑נָּה וַיִּקְח֤וּ לָהֶם֙ נָשִׁ֔ים מִכֹּ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר בָּחָרוּ: ג וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהֹוָ֗ה לֹא־יָד֨וֹן רוּחִ֤י בָאָדָם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ם בְּשַׁגָּ֖ם ה֣וּא בָשָׂ֑ר וְהָי֣וּ יָמָ֔יו מֵאָ֥ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים שָׁנָה: ד הַנְּפִלִ֞ים הָי֣וּ בָאָ֘רֶץ֘ בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵם֒ וְגַ֣ם אַחֲרֵי־כֵ֗ן אֲשֶׁ֨ר יָבֹ֜אוּ בְּנֵ֤י הָאֱלֹהִים֙ אֶל־בְּנ֣וֹת הָאָדָ֔ם וְיָלְד֖וּ לָהֶ֑ם הֵ֧מָּה הַגִּבֹּרִ֛ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר מֵעוֹלָ֖ם אַנְשֵׁ֥י הַשֵּׁם: ה וַיַּ֣רְא יְהֹוָ֔ה כִּ֥י רַבָּ֛ה רָעַ֥ת הָאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְכָל־יֵ֨צֶר֙ מַחְשְׁבֹ֣ת לִבּ֔וֹ רַ֥ק רַ֖ע כָּל־הַיּוֹם: ו וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם יְהֹוָ֔ה כִּי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּוֹ: ז וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהֹוָ֗ה אֶמְחֶ֨ה אֶת־הָאָדָ֤ם אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָ֨אתִי֙ מֵעַל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֔ה מֵאָדָם֙ עַד־בְּהֵמָ֔ה עַד־רֶ֖מֶשׂ וְעַד־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם כִּ֥י נִחַ֖מְתִי כִּ֥י עֲשִׂיתִם: ח וְנֹ֕חַ מָ֥צָא חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְהוָֹה:


She knew there would be risk associated with tzimtzum – the sacred contraction with which She would make space for the Universe. How could the All-Knowing not know?

But the risk was, in part, why She had done it. Because in this endless, omniscient eternity, the Eternal One saw that She would never know curiosity. She would never suffer a pang of worry or surge of anticipation. And once this thought fully formulated, She could not let it go. Oh, the countless eons in which this wondering fluttered like waves on the deep!

Hence, the arguably extreme idea of tzimtzum - a grand, ripping, relinquishment of control that would make way for something new to happen.

In a gasp like a baby's first shocked breath, She pulled back the diaphragm of the Divine, creating space for a Universe to expand to fill the Divine lungs. In seven days it was done - chay, tzomeach, domem - animal, vegetable, mineral - things, creatures beyond count, an explosion of interaction and unfolding physics. She felt awe and satisfaction and, at last, curiosity.

What would happen next? There was no end to the not-knowing. She observed every detail with gentle delight - the world frothing in a fantastic chemical reaction. And ah, what's that? The human - it ate the fruit of the tree? Now that was a change. And as they covered their genitals, so their minds became hidden as well, their thoughts unreadable. The human began to work in mysterious ways.

The Divine's curiosity about this - and everything else - was boundless. Her ponderings and puzzlings, her distresses and delights –– these all were instantly animated, taking form and flying into the World. All She had to do was wonder, "what would it be like if..." and a Being sprang into existence, setting out on a mission to find out what it would be like if. What is it like to live on earth? To feel small? To be anchored by gravity. To look up and see the stars rather than be them?

And what is it like to feel desire? Desire was always in these creatures' minds. What would it be like to crave and experience going from separateness to union? Not a union in some abstract realm of Eyn Sof, of Infinity, which frankly, in the excitement of this project she could barely remember, but on Earth, in gardens and on beds, a union of skin and sweat and seed.

She wondered this; she wondered many things; and Beings emerged from her thought, fleshier than mere thought, and they launched into the still-fresh Universe. The first of these Beings could not withstand the pressure of the physical world; such limitless longing squeezed into such bounded biology. These ones fell into deep despair. Alas for the Nefilim, the fallen ones, whose only wish was to be raised right back up, but with no words to say it and no magic to do it.

The next Beings to emerge were better suited. She conceived of them as Beyn Elohim, the In-Betweeners, conduits connecting Creator and Created, like fingers reaching into the gut of the tzimtzum. The Beyn Elohim were more successful and proved, for a time, to be a great pleasure and comfort to an unexpectedly lonely God. Through them She experienced fulfillment, love, procreation, pride. They and the daughters of dust made babies together who became great adventurers and heroes.

In time, the Beyn Elohim, affected by the multiplicity of this World, became self-aware and daringly independent. They enjoyed and exploited their In-Between status. Humans perceived the divine in them and called them gods. They made stories and songs about them, attributing to them storm and sun and sustenance. And seeing this, the Divine felt another new thing, the unexpected child of anticipation: disappointment.

It was all too much. Too much sensation from too much surface area. She had been drunk with the newness of it all; her judgment clouded. She had created a fragmented world and it had fragmented Her right back.

If there was hope for this multi-dimensional Creation, She would need to remain whole. Let the people find Her and draw wholeness from that touch. "I know now," she said, "that my spirit cannot again descend into the world of Earth in a form that is also flesh."

Like a painter who must learn when to put down the brush and step away from the canvas, the Divine realized She had been dabbling too long. She had unleashed more than She should. It was a glaring error in the eyes of the Unerring One. Some of the canvas needed to be scraped away.

She reached her decision. She would rebirth the world in water, in tears. For the sake of Her Creation, she would learn to live in loneliness so that they could be free to grow and flourish and imagine. They all looked like her, every one of them. She would listen, She would watch, She would be quietly, invisibly present in all things, She would whisper gently in the ears and dreams of those who would listen. She would hold still, and would welcome each one of them at journey's end.


This midrash was an exercise for Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan's class, "Midrash from a Renewal Perspective," Spring 2016.