From the Rabbi – God Believes in Evolution

Vayakhel/Pekudei 5778

God Believes in Evolution

In a famous verse that describes the exquisite generosity of Yisrael, as they brought forth contributions for the building of the Tabernacle, our parsha says: “The People are bringing more than is needed…” and Moses proclaims throughout the camp: “Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!” and the Torah tells us they stopped bringing. “Their efforts had been enough for all the tasks to be done, and more.”

And Moses surveys the project; Moses “saw all the work,” all the melacha. Midrash Tanchuma clarifies: it doesn’t say Moses saw all the work of the sanctuary, rather all the work, in other words, the whole of the work of Creation.

About Creation, our Torah tells us: “God saw all that God had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Now, Moses sees the creative effort of the People, who are building this sanctuary to affirm the Creator, and it too is good.

As above, so below.

Overflowing generosity was what was needed for the making of the Mishkan, a limitless act of generosity the likes of which had not been seen since God’s own first gift of overflowing generosity in creating heaven and earth.

And as paradigms have shifted, and we no longer look to a centralized physical Mishkan, perhaps we must consider that every dwelling place that we make, in our lives, for God, requires a similar generosity of spirit, a flow from us that mirrors the infinite flow of the One who continuously speaks the world into being.

And yet, in this week’s sacred narrative, Moses says: Stop! He sets a limit to the giving.

Reb Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, the Sfat Emet, says that in this aspect, too, creation of the Tabernacle mirrors Creation of the world. He teaches that when God put Creation into motion, the heaven and earth kept expanding, thus that God had to say, “Enough!” And so it was with B’nei Yisrael. And the Sfat Emet says that this, too, the limit setting of Stop! Enough! Was also part of the melacha, the work that was needed.

God did not want every soul and spark that was to exist till the end of time to generate immediately, but rather, that the world unfold and reveal itself, evolving with time.

And Moshe protected against exhausting all available resources, as must we, of course.

And tasks are saved for later.

Evolution is part of the plan, for nature, and for the fulfillment of human contributions and ideas. There is a lesson, here, about leaving room for future generations who will also want some hand in building God’s dwelling place on earth.

And that is why I love the teachings of the Sfat Emet. He believed in the equal legitimacy of every generation’s Torah and in the importance of keeping our relationship with God alive by filtering Torah through our humanity in each age, so that we can enact our own interpretation of mitzvot it with authenticity.

If not everything is created all at once, decided for eternity, pinned down, frozen, then there’s room for relationship, for conversation, for pilpul, a loving reasoning out, negotiation and re-negotiation of meaning and relevance and creative product, and all the details of what a home for God is in our lives and world, in our time.

The Sfat Emet explains that God speaks to us through the Torah of Sinai, what we call the Written Torah, and we respond to God by speaking Oral Torah, the ongoing tradition of drawing God’s ideas through the reality of our human-ness and the paradigm of our time, in a give and take that is a negotiation between lovers building a home together. Our evolving middle path is the space we create for indwelling, the place we can co-habit with God.

What seems good, very good, perfect, “enough,” as out parsha says, now, will, someday seem insufficient, no longer a good fit, and our life with God will, necessarily, morph into a form we cannot yet imagine.

God poured limitless shefa, divine flow, into creating the world, but called a halt to the melacha after six days, leaving more species and kinds to evolve over time. Moses called a halt to the giving in the time of the Tabernacle, blessing what was. The Rabbis of the Talmud did not freeze Jewish law, but created a system of evolving law, a halacha, which means a path, a way of walking toward an ever-changing future.

And it is our task to participate in the great Jewish undertaking of studying, wrestling with, owning, and sharing our lineage, m’dor l’dor, from generation to generation, living in what Reb Zalman called “backward compatibility,” honoring what was, peeling away what no longer serves us healthily, nurturing the aliveness of what does endure, and speaking Torah with our own authenticity and most importantly, our own invested commitment.

The future of Judaism belongs to anyone who pulls their chair up to the table in the Bet Midash, in the house of study.

No generation should think that it is our task or our right to complete the project, the melacha, but neither can we desist from participating with unbridled curiosity and generosity of spirit

V’chein yehi ratzon.