“Moses Sees the Promised Land From Afar” by James Tissot, ca. 1900
“Moses Sees the Promised Land From Afar” by James Tissot, ca. 1900

A good answer to a cheeky question: If God is perfect, how can God create?

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The Torah column is supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.


Deuteronomy 32:1-52

II Samuel 22:1-51

In a rare moment of quiet meditation, the Rabbi of Chelm was at his desk with a quill in hand and a bottle of ink at arm’s length, writing over and over four Aramaic words in Hebrew letters: leit atar panui mineh.

“Hey, you busy?”

Startled, the rabbi looked up and saw a student at the door. “No, yes, well, kind of, no. Come on in.”

“Are you a scribe?”

“For me, Hebrew lettering is a form of spiritual practice.”

“What are you writing?”

“’Leit atar panui mineh — There is no place without you,’ from the Tikkunei Zohar, a kabbalistic text.”

“And what is that one?” The student points to another sheet of paper.

“’Ana aveda d’kudsha b’rich hu — I am a servant of the Holy One,’ from the Zohar, Parashat Vayakhel.”

“These are Hebrew words? They sound funny.”

“These are Aramaic words, written in Hebrew letters.”

“So, this is how you express yourself?”

“You’re here, I think, because your Torah reading is Parashat Ha’azinu, and you’re trying to figure it out.”

“Yes, it’s just a long poem.”

“It’s one of many poems in the Bible that appear at the end of a story.  Ha’azinu, the Song of Moses, comes at the end of Deuteronomy:

“Give ear, O heavens, that I may speak,
and let the earth hear my mouth’s utterances.
Let my teaching drop like rain,
my saying flow like dew,
like showers on the green
and like cloudbursts on the grass.”

“Many poems?”

“Yes, and they often appear after a long narrative. Here, Ha’azinu is the last great expression of the life of Moses. Way back in Genesis 49, there is the Song of Jacob. On Jacob’s deathbed, at the end of the epic saga that began with Sarah and Abraham, he says:

“Assemble and harken, O Jacob’s sons,
And harken to Israel your father.

“And again, at the end of the Egyptian period of the Exodus story, Shirat HaYam, Song of the Sea, Exodus 15:1:

“Let me sing unto the Lord for He surged, O surged
horse and its rider He hurled into the sea.
My strength and my power is Yah,
and He became my deliverance.

“And here, 1 Samuel 2, the Song of Hannah:

“And Hannah prayed and she said:
My heart rejoiced through the Lord
my horn is raised high through the Lord.
My mouth is wide to bolt down my foes;
for I was gladdened by Your rescue.

“And at the end of 2 Samuel 22, at the end of David’s struggles with his enemies, he sings:

“The Lord is my crag and my fortress
and my own deliverer
God, my rock where I shelter
my shield and the horn of my rescue.’”

The student thought for a minute and said, “These poems are all expressions of thanks to God. What does God do? Can God be grateful? If God is perfect, how can God create?”

Here, again, the Rabbi of Chelm sits amazed at the innocent question of a student, the capacity of the curious to ask the best questions. The Council of Chelm never does this.

“I have a good answer for you. It’s from Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jewish Palestine, and a great poet. He wrote an answer (Shemonah Kevatzim 4:68):

“We understand that there are two aspects to the absolute perfection of God.

“One aspect of perfection, from the perspective of its greatness and completeness, lacks nothing and therefore nothing can be added to it.

“However, if there is no possibility of growth, then this in itself is a deficiency.

“Perfection that comes from growth and constant improvement has an advantage and satisfaction that we deeply yearn for, to go from strength to strength.

“Therefore, it is not possible for divine perfection to be lacking the quality of improvement. This is the impetus for divine creativity. Existence progresses without limit and becomes elevated. It is found that the divine soul of existence sustains its constant growth. It is the divine foundation that calls creation into being and drives its constant improvement.”

“So, the song of God is creation? Creation is God’s creation.”

“Continuous creation. Every new creation is praise.”

The Rabbi of Chelm held back one more poem. It was a bit much, he thought — don’t spoil the moment. He recalled to himself the final poem of Walt Whitman, the 1892 version of “Song of Myself”:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
and what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good
belongs to you.

Whitman, he knew what “There is no place without you” meant.

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan lives and works in Berkeley, California. He can be reached at [email protected].