Tefillah Tuesday: Perpetual Creation

The first blessing before the morning Shema goes on to praise Hashem, “Who, in goodness, perpetually renews creation every day,or

ובטובו מחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית, mehadesh bekhol yom tamid ma’aseh bereshit.

As we have seen in previous week’s postings, this first blessing expresses wonder at morning light, and recognizes that darkness, too, comes from God. The simplest meaning of God “renewing creation” may have been that each dawn feels like the birth of a brand new world.

The renewal motif derives from Psalm 104, the most wonderful lyric in that wonderful book. In a soaring tour through creation, God is described – not as a distant monarch ordering let there be light – but as wearing a garment of light to illuminate existence. The poem describes heavenly mastery over wind and water, creating mountains, valleys, oceans, creeks, plants, birds, mighty lions roaring, little rodents scurrying through the forest, nocturnal animals coming home in the morning as humans head out to work. In verse 30, the Psalm describes God bringing death to creatures by inhaling their spirits, then creating others by exhaling new breath into their lungs. And thus תחדש פני אדמה, “You renew the face of the earth.”

Beautiful. Not metaphysical. By the Middle Ages, Jews learned to engage in philosophy and adopted vocabulary common to other monotheisms and mysticisms. To some, the theme of perpetual creation took on additional resonance. Perpetual creation, חידוש תמידי, was seen to resolve some logical and metaphysical problems posed by the idea that God created the world at one single arbitrary moment. The details of all that are not too relevant for most of us today.

Still, some daveners will find perpetual creation spiritually and mystically appealing, because it provides a language for sensing God’s constant connection with this terrestrial world. At each and every moment, Hashem’s gracious power bestows existence to world, which always manifests God’s care, wisdom and even the emanation of divine presence. The 12th century poet and philosopher Judah HaLevi expressed this in his Kuzari [3.11]:

“What applies to divine creation is not comparable to human work. If a human artisan makes a mill, for example, once the work is concluded, the artisan can walk away and the mill will continue to function for its appointed purpose. But the divine Creator invests creatures with organs and bestows upon them certain capacities, and enables those capacities to function ceaselessly. If God were to withhold guidance and care for even a moment, the world would cease to exist.”

The 18th century mystical master and founder of the Habad movement, R. Shneur Zalman of Lyadi paraphrased this passage with what became a slogan of Hasidic theology [Tanya 2.2]: “If the Creator’s power were withheld from creation, God forbid, it would return to utter non-existence and nothingness. Instead, כח הפועל בנפעל תמיד, koach hapo’el be’nifal tamid, the power of the Maker is present perpetually in what is made.”  In a rough modern metaphor, God is the electricity that keeps the machine running at every moment. If you were to unplug the machine, then … bzzt. It would be done.

But the machine is not done. It’s not even old and certainly not obsolete. It acquires a brand new existence at each moment. By davening the phrase that God “perpetually renews creation,” one can acquire the consciousness that the world is produced by, and testifies to, the presence of the Lord of Life, the Maker who can be perceived within what is made.