Rabbi Michael Barclay
Bereshit: The Kabbalah of Withdrawing in Order to Create
The seasons rotate, day and night follow each other, and the Torah ends and begins again with a new reading of what we study each year. On a certain level, we can consider the Torah the world’s longest mantra: it takes a full year to complete and then we start it over again, every year reciting it to gain deeper personal understandings.
This week we renew ourselves and our souls as we again read the first portion of the Torah, Bereshit. This portion has so many rich teachings and stories as it deals with the Creation of the Universe, the first man and woman, and goes through the story of the forbidden fruit and serpent all the way to the decline of mankind in its first ten generations. There are probably more commentaries on this one portion than any other in the Torah, and so much material to understand in so many ways. It is in this reading that we see a Divine instruction of how to manifest something out of nothing; and how to create in our own lives.
There is a basic theological question that arises in all faiths: how did God create something out of nothing, and where was God prior to Creation?
Our kabbalists call God the “Ayn Sof”, meaning “without end”. God was, is, and will always be. But if God is infinite, how is there space for Creation? We find the answer in commentaries based on Sefer Yetzirah, a mystical treatise based on teachings attributed to our Patriarch Avraham and codified over 2000 years ago. Through it, we learn of a principle of creating known as “tzimtzum”.
Tzimtzum means “withdrawal”, and it is an understanding of how God begins the entire Creation process. God, who is everywhere and everything, creates a “container” with boundaries and then withdraws Himself in order to create a space that would be both outside of Him and yet still connected. This is a tough concept, but think of it as God stepping back and creating a big salad bowl, into which he tosses Divine sparks of Creation. God then places these Divine sparks of light and differentiation into the salad bowl, and our Universe is created and exists within that salad bowl that is both part of and separate from God Himself.
This is a deep and difficult concept to understand, especially through writing. (Years ago, I spent six months with a group of other scholars studying just the first two lines of this week’s portion.) But there is a valuable lesson in the concept that we can all utilize in manifesting our own personal creative process.
When our soul determines that we need to create something, be it a business, piece of art, or a relationship, we need to first create the “container” and withdraw ourselves so that the project can become manifest. Creation of any project is similar to God’s process of creating the Universe: we must first create the structure and boundaries, and then fill in the content. Taking the example of creating a business, we must first identify the structure of the business before we create the “product” or “service”. If I want to open up a shoe store, I must create the corporate structure, banking, find the store location, etc. prior to stocking the store or creating a marketing plan. It’s good sense, is demonstrated by God in the Torah, and is a recipe for success in manifesting our dreams and goals.
Do you have a project you wish to create this year? A new business, relationship, or creative expression of yourself? Maybe write a book or take up a new hobby? It doesn’t matter what you desire to create: God teaches us in this portion the need to start that process by first creating the boundaries and container for the project.
Now…go withdraw, create that container, and manifest your dreams!
May we all be blessed to see the creations we dream of become manifest in the physical world, and to experience them making the world a better place in our time.
Rabbi Michael Barclay
October 1st, 2021
25th of Tishrei, 5782