The Dwelling Place – A Contemporary Midrash On Genesis For Children And Grown Ups

In Honor of Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi – (August 28, 1924 – July 3, 2014)

There was once a little girl and she was terribly bored. There was nothing to do, and not only was there nothing to do, there was absolutely nothing at all.

On the first day…

Since there was absolutely nothing, the little girl whose name was Shekina, decided quite confidently that the first thing she needed was space. “Nothing is nothing, she thought, but space is definitely something. It’s open and it can be filled.” She was surprised how easy it was to create space. Just like that.

Shekina liked space. It made her feel free. For quite a long while that was enough for her. Then one day she felt the need for something else, something a little more substantial though she didn’t want to lose the sense of space she loved so much.

On the second day…

Shekina created moisture. She was proud of herself for coming up with such a good solution. Her creation still felt infinitely spacious and yet now, it also felt full. She closed her eyes sensing the coolness of the moisture upon her skin, and as she did she saw a darkness as vast and as beautiful as the space she had created. The little girl rested within this moist coolness and safe darkness for a long time. She enjoyed being creative.

On the third day…

Feeling mischievous, Shekina awoke with a sparkle in her eyes. She wanted an adventure. She decided, in one fell swoop, to create the opposite of space though she had no idea what that would be. And so she did. Every thing in the world that ever would be, appeared. She hadn’t realized she had inadvertently created time, and she had no idea of just how many things that would be, but then again she had made a tremendous amount of space. To make sure she had indeed created all the stuff of the world, she made light to shine upon everything she created.

Suddenly there was utter chaos, and it was exhilarating. Some things were moving slowly and some things were whizzing by dangerously fast, so fast that sometimes things would collide into one another, creating loud sounds. She had never heard sounds before.

All this commotion was awesome, a little scary and at the same time wonderful. But after a while Shekina began getting dizzy. Nothing ever stayed in the same place! Something would appear that she loved and then, in a flash, it would be gone, never to be seen again. Or worse, something would smash into what she loved and it would shatter into a million pieces.

On the fourth day…

Shekina was still dizzy. She didn’t want to get rid of anything she had created. She didn’t even know for sure whether she could de-create something. Then she came up with another original idea. She decided to create gravity and the ground and the moment she did everything, literally, fell into place.

She couldn’t believe how good her world now felt. It was as magnificent as her first experience of space. Every thing was sitting comfortably. Every thing was at rest. Every thing was settled and seemed entirely happy exactly where it was, and exactly being what it was. The stars found their place in the night sky. True, there was an occasional star that would without notice dart across the sky and vanish. But for the most part the stars stayed put. There seemed to be a pattern, as if the stars had arranged themselves. The more Shekina gazed at the stars, the more patterns she saw. She wondered, “Were the patterns there to be found, or am I imagining them?” There was a peaceful stillness to the mountains and the rocks. Again it was quiet and she was no longer dizzy. There was some logic to where every thing was, but Shekina did not yet know what it meant for something to be logical.

Even with all the stuff now filling her world there still seemed to be an equally infinite amount of space. And there was still plenty of moisture. In fact, by creating gravity and the ground, some of the moisture had concentrated fallen, making oceans and rivers and waterfalls. The contrast was perfect; the strong, still silence of the mountains and the rocks combined with and the constant motion and comforting sounds of the waves, streams, and waterfalls. Her world was singing its own song. From where she did not know, winds spiraled, moving the clouds and the trees. Her world was dancing its own dance.

Everything looked beautiful to her. Suddenly Shekina realized that, since she had started creating, she hadn’t been bored for a second! It was as if she had discovered the secret to happiness. She was content for what felt like eons.

On the fifth day…

Shekina noticed she had not had an original idea in a long time. And then she did! Out of the blue another idea popped into her head. She wondered where on earth these ideas came from. She thought, “What if I could create creatures who had entirely different ways of perceiving and experiencing this beautiful world I have made?” So she created creatures that could see her world from above, and creatures that could see under the water, and creatures that lived within the ground itself, and creatures that lived in the trees. She created creatures that lived where it was hot and creatures that lived where it was cold, creatures that could see, and smell, and taste, and hear and touch the world she had created, all simultaneously experiencing the same world differently. “Why, she thought, that would be like creating millions of worlds inside of the one world I created! That struck her as quite clever and efficient.

Shekina spent a long, long time watching all these creatures and comparing one to the other. She loved watching all the creatures making their resting places…dens, lodges, lairs, hives, nests, burrows. They were all so original, such creative creatures! “I see. I am like my creatures and my creatures are like me!” Just like them, I’ve made a resting place, a dwelling place, a home. Again she sensed a logic to her world but still she did not know what that meant. Soon this was to change.

What was making her world go round? What made the creatures in the air able to be up there when all the other creatures rested on the ground like everything else? Why did some creatures eat other creatures? Most amazing to her was how these creatures seemed to come and go. New creatures would appear while older ones would disappear. Creatures tended to be small at first and then got bigger, and the trees too. What was that? The questions seemed endless.

Another idea popped into her head, but she was not sure whether it was a good idea or not so she did not act upon it right away, which she thought was very mature. She loved the world so much as it was, even if she didn’t understand it. “My world seems to understand itself, she thought. It knows exactly what to do. Maybe I should stop here. This feels complete. Everything works. It’s beautiful. It’s interesting. Who cares if I don’t understand it?” But the questions kept coming. They were beginning to make her uncomfortable, sometimes even unhappy.

On the sixth day…

Shekina decided to take one of the creatures she had created and make them capable of thinking about her creation. Personally, she did not want to think too much about it. That wasn’t her thing. She didn’t feel very smart, just very creative. Besides, there were just too many questions. The little girl became very serious and thought, “If I were to make every individual creature of this particular kind of creature able to think maybe, eventually, this creature would be able to answer my questions.”

And so even though the little girl felt a funny feeling in her stomach, she went ahead and did it anyway. She thought, “Well, how am I going to find out if this is a good idea or not if I don’t try?” There seemed to be something logical about that too.

She mustered up her courage and made it so this one kind of creature could think and then right away she realized these creatures would need to be able to communicate their thoughts to one another if they were to be able to figure things out together, and so she created a bunch of languages because she thought a bunch of languages would be more interesting than just creating one.

On the seventh day…

Without noticing it, (she had been so, so busy), Shekina was growing older. She had seen a lot, and done a lot. She began feeling tired, something she’d never felt before. “Perhaps it would be good for me to rest a while and spend a little time not creating,” she thought. Shekina spent a long while simply gazing at her creation. “It’s good, she thought, very good.” She loved her world. Sleep was spreading over her as if she were being covered with a soft, warm blanket. She thought, “I think the world will be okay for a little while if I don’t watch it.” Again there was that funny feeling in her stomach, but before she knew it she had fallen fast asleep.

This brings us exactly to where we are now.

Shekina remains asleep. As she sleeps our thinking creatures have been busy trying to figure everything out. They’ve found a lot of answers to a lot of her questions. On this front, they are doing very well, even though there remain far more questions to be answered than the ones they have answered because each answer they come up with seems to create new questions. These creatures may be busy for a long time, maybe forever.

I say maybe forever because it seems that thinking as much as these thinking creatures do brings with it strange side effects, something the little girl could not have predicted. One of the side effects is that these creatures seem not to care very much about the other creatures or, for that matter, about anything the little girl created. The thinking creatures seem so busy thinking and trying to figure everything out they don’t notice how beautiful everything is, how everything works together, how well it all takes care of itself.

As Shekina sleeps, the world continues on its own course without her. It is up to her thinking creatures to be like her, to be creative, and to keep the dwelling place safe and beautiful. I know sooner or later Shekina will wake up, and when she does I wonder what she will find and what she will think about it. I am sure the moment she awakens another idea will pop into her head.

After all, Shekina is a very creative little girl.

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