The Great Myths #45: Sacred Language Creates the World (Jewish)

Four stories from the great Jewish tradition of the sacredness of the Torah, of Hebrew, and of the letters of the alphabet themselves:

Creation by Word

In the beginning a word was spoken by the mouth of God, and the heavens and the earth came into being, as it is said, By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made (Ps. 33:6). It was no wearisome labor for God, whose word came into being at the instant it was spoken. When God told the heavens to continue to spread out, they went on expanding, as it is said, Who spread out the skies like gauze, stretched them out like a tent to dwell in (Isa. 40:22). Indeed, if God had not said: “Enough!” they would have gone on expanding until the end of time.

[Commentary:] …Here, however, another word is required to stop the expansion of the heavens. This echoes the myth of the golem, a man made out of clay, who, when told to bring water from the river, continues to bring barrels of water until the house is flooded, simply because no one told him to stop. The image of the world continuing eternally to expand suggests the modern theory of the Big Bang.

– compiled from various Midrash in Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, by Howard Schwartz, 247

 


The Letters of the Alphabet

For two thousand years prior to the creation of the world, all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet were hidden. During that time, God gazed upon the letters and delighted in them. Then, when God was about to create the world, all twenty-two letters engraved upon His crown came down and stood before him, from tav to aleph. The letter tav approached first and said: “O Lord, create the world through me, for I am the beginning of the word ‘Torah.’”

God replied, “Tav, You are worthy and deserving, and in the days to come I shall command that you be put as a sign on the foreheads of the righteous, so that when the destroying angel comes to punish sinners, he will see the letter on their foreheads and spare them.” But the letter tav was sad that it would not be used to create the world, and it left the presence of the Lord.

Then, one by one, each of the other letters came forward and pleaded with God to create the world through them. But God did not grant their wish. Soon all that remained were two letters, aleph and bet. Bet came forth and said, “O Lord, it would be appropriate to create the world through me, for your children will praise you through me every time they say ‘Blessed be the Lord for ever and ever.’”

Then God said, “Blessed are you who comes in the name of the Lord.” And God took the letter bet and created the world through it.

All this time the letter aleph had stood silent. Then God called it and said, “Why are you silent?” Aleph replied, “Master of the Universe, I am the least among the letters, for my value is but one. How can I presume to approach you?”

The words of the letter aleph were pleasing to God, and He said, “Because you are so modest, aleph, you shall become the foremost among the letters, for just as your value is one, so I am one and the Torah is one.”

So it is that the aleph is the first letter of the alphabet, while bet is the first letter of Bereshit, the first word of the Torah, which means “in the beginning.”

– compiled from various Midrash in Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, by Howard Schwartz, 250-251

 


The Creation of the Torah

God created the Torah at the very beginning, before the heavens were created and the earth was brought into being, before the mountains were sunk, before the hills were born, before there were any streams or sources of water, as it is said, Yahweh created me at the beginning of His course (Prov. 8:22). It lay in God’s bosom and sang praises of God along with the ministering angels.

God wrote the Torah while seated on the Throne of Glory, high in the firmament above the heads of the celestial creatures. The Garden of Eden was at God’s right hand, and Gehenna was at His left. The heavenly sanctuary was set up in front of Him, with the name of the Messiah engraved upon the altar. There, as the Torah rested on His knees, God wrote the letters in black fire on white fire. Later, it was tied to the arm of God, as it is said, Lightning flashing at them from His right (Deut. 33:2). Others say that the Torah was written on the arm of God, while still other say it was carved in fire on God’s crown.

The Torah was there when God created the heavens, drawing a circle on the face of the depths. So too was it there when God fashioned the heavens and set the streams into motion.

The Torah was reared by God, and it was His daily joy, giving God great pleasure. Later Moses arose and brought it down to earth to give to humanity.

– compiled from various Midrash in Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, by Howard Schwartz, 248

 


Creation by the Torah

The Torah was one of the seven things created before the creation of the world, and the Torah served as God’s advisor when He was about to create this world. God looked into the Torah and created the world and all created beings through it.

When the time came to create man, the Torah said, “Master of the Universe, the world is Yours to create. The days of this man You want to create will be short and full of anger, and he will be drawn into sin. If You are not going to have patience with him, it’s better for him not to be created.”

God answered, “It’s not for nothing that I’m called Merciful.”

After that God consulted the Torah, and let the Torah serve as a blueprint for all creation. So too did the Torah serve as an artisan in all the work of creation. With the assistance of the Torah, God stretched out the heavens and established the earth. With the Torah He bound up the sea, lest it go forth and overflow the world. With the Torah He locked up the deep, so that it might not inundate the world. So too did He fashion the sun and moon with it. Thus we learn that the world was indeed founded upon the Torah, and that God created the world and all created beings through the Torah. How did God do this? He looked into the Torah and created the world with it. With every single act of creation, God looked into the Torah, and created that detail of creation.

Others say that God fashioned the world according to the Torah. Looking at the word “heavens,” God created the heavens. Looking at the word “light,” He created light. So it went with each and every word of the Torah. In this way the world came into being.

Still others say that God opened the Torah and took a name that had not been given to any creature, and let three drops of that name fall into the sea. Those drops became filled with water and with the Holy Spirit, for The spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:1). Thus the Shekhinah was present in that place.

God opened the Torah again and took out a second name. This time God took three drops of light: one for the light of this world, one for the light of the World to Come, and one for the light of Torah. For there is a holy light hidden in the Torah, and in order to discover it, it is necessary to probe deeply into the Torah, and one day the light of the Torah will shine forth.

Then God opened the Torah for the third time, and took out three drops of fire, and from that fire the whole world was heated.

God saw fire on His right, light on His left, and water beneath Him. He mixed them together two by two. He took fire and water and mixed them together, and made heaven out of them. So too did God take water and light and make a tent of darkness of them, as well as the Clouds of Glory. And out of fire and light God made the holy beasts.

Thus not only was the Torah created prior to the creation of the world, it was the vessel by which the world was created. Thus the universe was created through the letters of the Torah.

So too did God declare, at the time of man’s creation, that the world was created only for the sake of the Torah, and that as long as the Jewish people occupy themselves with the Torah, the world will continue to exist. But if the Jewish people abandon the Torah, God will return all of create to a state of chaos.

– compiled from various Midrash in Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, by Howard Schwartz, 247