Shape Creation (Genesis)

shapes

The cycle of readings for Shabbat in the synagogues begins again at the beginning. About the world and its creation, the first chapter of points to the careful transitions between tohu and bohu, between light and dark, between waters and waters, dry land and oceans, fish foul and creatures, the human person, male and female God created them in the image of God. About God, the rabbis compare the Creator to an artist. God is a God who makes things. Big compositions by Turner, Kandinsky, Rothko, and Kiefer come to mind, but I prefer these fierce, funny little creatures by Murakami.

In Berachot 10a, “R. Shimi b. ‘Ukba (others say, Mar ‘Ukba) was often in the company of R. Shimon b. Pazzi, who25  used to arrange aggadahs [and recite them] before R. Yohanan. He26  said to him: What is the meaning of the verse, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name?  — He (Shimon b. Pazzi) replied: Come and observe how the capacity of human beings falls short of the capacity of the Holy One, blessed be He. The nature of flesh and blood: one shapes (tzar) a shape (tzura) on a wall, but he cannot cast into it breath and soul, bowels and intestines. But the Holy One, blessed be He, is not so; He shapes one shape within another shape, and invests it with breath and spirit, bowels and intestines.

“And that is what Hannah said: There is none holy as the Lord, for there is none beside Thee, neither is there any zur [rock] like our God.28  What means, neither is there any zur like our God’? There is no artist [zayyar] like our God. What means, ‘For there is none beside Thee’? …For the nature of flesh and blood is not like that of the Holy One, blessed be He. It is the nature of flesh and blood to be outlived by its works, but the Holy One, blessed be He, outlives His works.”

 “[…] Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the whole world, so the soul fills the body. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, sees, but is not seen, so the soul sees but is not itself seen. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, feeds the whole world, so the soul feeds the whole body. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is pure, so the soul is pure. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, sits in rooms within rooms, so the soul sits in rooms within rooms (hadrei hadarim).”

Rabbinic theology is aesthetic. Spatial form and animate figures provide the indispensable link between God and the world, looked at as a piece of living art. In this way of looking at things, God stands out as a form-shaper, a maker of figures, shaping one form inside another form. A spatial figure in its own right, the creator-God sits in rooms within rooms. Like the ones inhabiting The Castle of Tin Tin (1998), the creatures created are fierce little shapes that bite.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish though and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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One Response to Shape Creation (Genesis)

  1. dmf says:

    this is fantastic imagery thanks, do you know the work of Tim Morton:
    http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com/
    his work on aesthetics as object-oriented-ontology seems to be along these lines

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