- Rabbi Mordecai Finley Ph.D.
Before the Beginnings
The rabbis of the Talmud don't agree with the beginning sentence of the Torah. The book of Genesis begins, as it is usually translated, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The ancient one knew that there had to be more to the story than this.
The rabbis knew that will precedes action, and ideally, thought precedes will. In the Midrash (early rabbinic commentary on the Bible), the rabbis discussed what was in the Divine Mind that preceded creation.
They seem to agree on the term for "supernal wisdom of the Divine Mind" - "chochmah shel ma'alah" - "Upper Wisdom". A synonym for this supernal wisdom is "Torah", referring not to the book we possess, but to divine intelligence. In fact, the Midrash tells us that the Torah that we have is but a "novelet" (unripened fruit) of the upper wisdom (Bereishit Rabbah 17:5). In Midrashic thought, the Torah we have is a placeholder in the material universe, an access point for entry into the upper wisdom. All this was happening before creation.
What are the contours of the upper wisdom? "R. Zutra bar Tobiah said in the name of Rav: The world was created by means of ten capacities and powers: By wisdom, by understanding, by reason, by strength, by moral correction, by might, by righteousness, by judgment, by loving-kindness, and by compassion." (Talmud, Chagigah 12:a).
From the mind of the ancient rabbis, before the beginning, Torah came into being, but not Torah as the text, but rather Torah as an energy. Divine qualities compressed themselves into a singular thing that became the means by which the Divine could create.
Imagine you are trying to write a poem or a song, and imagine the prodigious mental and spiritual effort that precedes the writing. If the poem and song flows, it means the waters of meaning had already been taking shape down within. If the poem and song is sculpted, one can certainly feel the capacities and powers of the conscious mind at work. Thought and will precede creation.
Now imagine that the first words of the Torah were, "In the beginning there was a great song, a song sung in the great darkness, singing out the hovering over the limitless abyss.
The ancient Rabbis saw the Torah that preceded creation as a song, a poem put to words. They thought that every human being was trying in the depths of their souls to sing this song and recite these words.
The Divine version was magically compressed into a singular phenomenon where divine energy took on physical mass, just enough for the world to explode into being.
A great song - the song of creation - fills the universe and fills our souls.
The biblical authors had to begin somewhere, so they sighed and began at a beginning, "in the beginning" that was no beginning, but at least it pointed toward a beginning that is trying to sing its way into our consciousness.