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Matzah and Maror or Apples and Honey?  When was the World Created?

03/19/2023 05:59:14 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin

When exactly was the world created?  The Rabbis of the Talmud weigh in. 

Rabbi Eliezer says that the world was created in the harvest month of Tishrei.  Rabbi Joshua argues that it was created in the springtime month of Nisan.  Both sages base their positions on the language of Genesis: Let shrubs and grasses spring from the earth and trees laden with fruit rise from the ground.   When are the fields green and alive? Surely in the harvest month of Tishrei, says Rabbi Eliezer.  No- it’s in the spring month of Nisan, counters Rabbi Joshua.

Eventually, we seem to favor Rabbi Eliezer.  After all, we celebrate Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year, in Tishrei.  That is the birthday of the world. 

But we also celebrate the birthday of the Jewish people, our personal creation story, in Nisan, the month of Pesach.  

What does this ancient argument really portend?  

According to Rabbi Samuel Eidels (Krakow, 1600’s), the meaning of the argument is this (my free translation):

In Tishrei, the Torah tells us that Adam sinned, repented  and was forgiven because of G-d’s compassion.  Rabbi Eliezer is telling us that observing Tishrei as the beginning of creation means that it is through mercy, compassion and forgiveness that the world exists.  

In Nisan, Israel was redeemed and Egypt destroyed through the attribute of justice: for the harshness of slavery called for justice.  Rabbi Joshua is telling us that observing Nisan as the beginning of creation means that while the world may be sustained through compassion, it is established  through justice.  

Justice and mercy, the two great poles of being.  Asian philosophy calls them Yin and Yang.  Science calls them expansion and contraction, matter and energy.  In ethics, they are integrity and openness:  the desire to establish boundaries versus the desire to interact and merge.  In sociology they are assimilation and autonomy.  In Jewish thought, they are universalism and particularism.

In Tishrei, we are called upon to be citizens of the world.  We devote ourselves to the great issues and causes of humanity.  In Nisan, we are focused on our own story, the story of a people rescued from human bondage by the Divine Call to freedom.  In Nisan, we are Jews, devoted to the inner growth of our people.  

But the two creation stories eventually merge.  The vision of the Prophet Micah:

In the days to come, The Mountain of the House of Adonai  shall stand frm above the mountains; And it shall tower above the hills.

The peoples shall gaze on it with joy, And the many nations shall go and shall say: “Come, Let us go up to the Mount of Adonai, To the House of the God of Jacob;

That Adonai  may instruct us in G-d's ways, And that we may walk in G-d’s paths.”

For from Zion shall come Torah The word of Adonai from Jerusalem.

Thus G-d will judge among the many peoples,

And arbitrate for the multitude of nations, However distant;

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up

Sword against nation; They shall never again know war;

But everyone shall sit beneath their grapevine and fig tree

And none shall make them afraid, 

For Adonai of Hosts has spoken. 

Tishrei's universalism and Nisan's particularism join together when we say, Next year in Jerusalem.  The messianic hope, the dream of a better world, freed of egotism and hate is our contribution to world civilization.  The Torah teaches that our little people has a role to play in that great odyssey of humanity’s rise from rivalry and hate; and that role is to be ourselves, proudly, joyfully, affirmatively.  By being a Jew of Nisan, we are the best citizens of the world of Tishrei.  A small people, “not by might and not by power but by My Spirit”- can transform the world just by being ourselves.   


And it is happening. During Passover, Jerusalem is filled with the children of many nations, come to join us for the festival.  At our own tables, the welcome we give, the smiles we share, the love and reverence we show for each other and for our gentle traditions: if every towering tree begins from a tiny seed, who knows what great things our songs, stories and customs can inspire?  

L’shana Ha’Ba’ah B’Yershalayim- Next Year in Jerusalem and Happy Nisan! 

Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784