I was profoundly moved by Rabbi Silver’s teachings that our world emerges from and with disorderedlessness and formlessness as foundations of existence - root material for creation rather than a sinister, destructive, external force. Tohu (chaos) v bohu (void) were presented as the substrate of what continuously is. Therefore it follows, that the pain of limiting infinitude is intrinsic to the experience of creation.
This reframing of our origin story is reinforced by the midrash about the diminishment of the moon. In the midrash, it is God that realises God’s own diminishment of the moon, an action that needs to be atoned for . It is God that acknowledges the fundamental role of diminishment and loss which accompanies every act of creation.
However, despite her painful experience of waxing and waning, as it turns out, the moon retains her primary position. Women (whose bodies themselves are redolent with creative potential) synchronise their cycles to a lunar calendar. Jewish time is primarily lunar with the calendar organised around 12 or 13 lunar months a year. And let’s not forget that the moon is often present during daylight hours, although her glow is concealed by the stronger light of the sun conceals it. It is only our awareness of her daytime presence, that allows us to bask in her invisible diurnal glow.
Perhaps these stories are examples of the principle ma’aseh avot siman labanim/the actions of the ancestors are a sign for the children.
While the moon’s diminishment occurs in the world of Beriyah, here in the world of Assiyah, Torah is full of stories of “natural” orders being reversed, the younger diminished one rising to a pre-eminent position.
Isaac the younger was chosen over Ishmael the older. Esau could not retain his favoured first born position over his younger brother Jacob the schemer. Like the moon, Jacob waxes and wanes, his whole life wavering between his Jacob and Israel personas, his limp a permanent sign of his struggle. Joseph, a young upstart, is diminished by his older brothers. He then rises to great prominence, until finally, he and his older brother Judah, are reconciled. Joseph learns to forgive and Judah learns what true chesed is, both brothers restored as two great luminaries, the sun and the moon, both brothers progenitors of a messianic line.
In each of these archetypal stories, pain, diminishment, grief and loss are part of the fullness and totality of experience ( the tov me’od and tov mot as Rebbe Meir had inscribed in his Torah scroll).
All of this puts me in mind of another midrash. After the fall from Eden, Adam and Eve suddenly know shame, their light bodies hardening into garments of skin (based on Hebrew homophones אור/light and עור/skin/hide). The female and male human figures in the accompanying mixed media collage are depicted as both light and its limitation, reduced to the world of clothes/words/definitions.
It also occurs to me that this links to some of the things that were presented in the classes on Complicating Chosenness in Rabbi Daniel’s Exploring Jewish Identities course. The moon is chosen, and yet the mere fact of her chosenness implies some sort of separation with all of the pain that accompanies it.
I am reminded also that in the Exodus story, the Hebrews escaped from an empire whose ruler Pharaoh was considered an embodiment of the constant, omnipotent sun god Ra. Before they left, the Hebrews were given the moon as a marker of time. The Exodus story is our template for geula/liberation and yet, the exaltation of escape was immediately followed by the stinging pain of the attack by Amalek. Again, great glory undercut by loss and diminishment.
I am conscious that we are still in the after glow of Chanukah. In the mystery tradition , the candles are considered the tiniest of sparks of ohr haganuz, the light hidden away since creation (after those primordial vessels shattered, unable to sustain the limitation of relationship). Like the moon, the Chanukiah candles only shine because of the darkness. Chanukah straddles the dark new moon of Tevet. Light and dark in symbiotic relationship, light cannot exist without the dark to contrast with it.
All of this found its way into a mixed media collage which emerged from Rabbi Silver’s “in the beginning” class - a visual response to the world hanging on the thinnest of threads of divine nothingness.
Patterned papers- Ink Drops Monochrome by Craft Consortium, Bokeh Backgrounds by Mintay Papers.
Rice paper - Stamperia cosmos infinity collection
Embellishments (sun, moon, goat) - Stamperia alchemy acetates
Corrugated board figures - Scrap FX
Tallit clip, mezuzah, snow flake obsidian, black sheep wool (representing tohu v’bohu), coloured wires - from my own collection
Text selections from Rabbi Silver’s offerings:
Tohu = something that confounds people. Bohu = desolation, something that has substance. In the Hebrew, Bo Hu can also be read as He (God?) is within it.
Sefer HaBahir 2
And the Divine Force said, be light! And it became light!
About the goat offering of Rosh Chodesh, it says “for HaShem”. The Holy One said “this goat shall be an atonement for Me for I diminished the moon”.
Babylonian Talmud Chuli 60b
“And the stars” - God diminished the moon. God gave her many stars to soothe her.
Rashi on Genesis 1:16
In the Torah of Rebbe Meir, they found it written “and it was very/other than (me’ed) good” and “death (mot) is good”.
Midrash Genesis Rabba 9:5
I am YHVH and there is none else.
Beside Me, there is no god. I imbue you with strength though you do not know Me.
So that they may know, from east to west that there is none but Me. I am YHVH and there is none else. I form light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I YHVH do all these things.
God stretches out the North upon emptiness and hangs the earth upon no-thing.
December 24, 2023
Chana-Toni Whitmont is a collage artist, crystal sound practitioner, creative, teacher and student whose practice and passions are born from her spiritual connection to her Jewish lineage and the ebbs and flows in the annual calendar cycle. She lives on magnificent Bidjigal, Birrabirragal and Gadigal Country (also known as Bondi), on the Pacific coast of Australia.