Image: Watercolor in bright colors, very messy. Artist: Prawny at Pixabay.
I received a wonderful question yesterday from Channah Yael and her Chavrusot, and thought that today would be a very appropriate day to answer it:
Why did Hashem create life to be messy?
G-d could have done it any way. Why this way?
What purpose does messiness have in our lives
and in the great plan of Creation?
The world is indeed messy. It is deeply distressing sometimes to see how messy it is. This morning I read an article in the Wall Street Journal, The Children of the Opioid Crisis, about children who grow up with a single parent addicted to opioid drugs. My heart ached as I read about little ones who are traumatized by what they have seen and heard. Even the more fortunate among them – those who have relatives who can step in and care for them – suffer dreadful after effects of physical hunger and neglect. I want to howl to heaven, Eicha?! – How?! – How can the Holy One allow such suffering of innocents?
So I look to the Torah and our tradition for answers. One answer is that the Holy One created us b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God:
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ; וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל-הָאָרֶץ, וּבְכָל-הָרֶמֶשׂ, הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ.
God said, “Let Us make humanity in Our image, after Our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” – Genesis 1:26.
Then, curiously, this is reinforced by repetition in the next verse:
וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ: זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם.
God created humanity in God’s own image, in the image of God created God them; male and female created them. – Genesis 1:27
So the Holy One created each of us, male and female, with the ability – and perhaps the responsibility – to “rule” our fellow creatures. One aspect of this is our intelligence. Another aspect of it is our ability to make choices. We have free will: the ability to choose between two or more possibilities. This concept is so important that the Torah repeats it immediately: we are made in the image of God, all of us; we have certain godlike aspects.
That was at Creation. The Torah does not immediately make clear what God hoped to see after giving humanity this property, but it does go on with the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, followed at length by other choices human beings made, many of them destructive choices.
Eventually, the Holy One gave Torah to us, to inform our choices. (e.g. “Choose life!” – Deuteronomy 30:19) We are still free to make choices. Sometimes we choose what we think is best, only to discover that it did not lead where we hoped. Sometimes we are selfish in our choices, and choose what we want because we want it. Sometimes we are not sure what to do, and make no decision, and that, too, is a choice.
There are other parts of creation that do not have choices, and those are messy too. The laws of nature are immutable, and sometimes result in pain and sorrow: I drop a can of soup, and smash my foot. The soup can and the planet Earth obey the law of gravity. My foot, which got in between them, absorbs the force with predictable results. Even the orderly parts of creation can be messy when they collide!
Our godlike power to make choices makes creation messy. The fixed laws of nature make things messy, too.
I suppose that the great Oneness we call God could have existed alone in splendor, its ruach Elohim [spirit/wind of God] blowing over the tohu v’vohu [chaos]. However, God chose (there’s that word again!) to separate light from darkness and create the world we know. God chose a messy world.
One of the quirks of the literary style of Torah is that it seldom tells us much about motivation. We are left to draw our own conclusions about them most of the time. So here are my conclusions:
I think it is safe to conclude that God did not want a doll house. God did not create a static world in which nothing bad ever happens. The closest thing to that is Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, and even there, the messiness was baked in: human beings had free will.
What I learn from this is that messiness itself is holy, created by God. This messiness inherent to the world is often a puzzle for us to solve. We have been given intellects and hearts to use in solving these puzzles.
Back to those poor children in the Wall Street Journal article: they are innocents who are suffering from the addiction of their parents. Perhaps the parents made bad choices. Perhaps they didn’t: they got hooked on drugs that they had previously needed for an injury. Either way, parents suffer, children suffer, the grandparents who take them in suffer, and society suffers in many different ways. It is up to me, as an observant Jew, to ask what I can do to alleviate the suffering, all the while understanding that I cannot “fix” some things about it. I can only embrace the suffering human beings, acknowledge their suffering, and do what little I can about for them.
Even for the person on the street, someone who may be an addict, whose story I do not know, there are things I can do. I can acknowledge their humanity by treating them as human beings. I can, if I choose (!) give them choices in the form of money: money they may choose to spend well or poorly. I cannot save them. What I can do is recognize what we have in common: we are human, we are made b’tzelem Elohim, and sometimes we suffer.
I believe that it is when I personally make the choice to embrace those suffering people, despite the discomfort that makes them seem alien to me, that I can approach the holiness God hopes for me. And when we do it corporately, as Am Yisrael, we fulfill our destiny as a people.
I want to howl “Eicha!?” to the God who made the world this way. Ultimately I do not and cannot understand. But in the moment, I have choices. I have things to do.