Or HaMeir on Bereshit

Or HaMeir on Bereshit

This piece was written in 5777/2016.

In his commentary on Bereshit, the Or HaMeir refers to two of the earliest Jewish mystical concepts—the notion that the Torah proceeded everything and the notion of a Ma’aseh Bereshit consciousness. When we think about the creation story, which has been interpreted and reinterpreted throughout the centuries, we tend to think of it as a means of grasping how the physical world around us was created. However, for the Or HaMeir and many other mystics, the creation story opens a window for us into the inner workings of the individual spiritual and religious life. The Torah proceeded creation, which is likened to the waters that preceded everything else. Thus, the Torah is a blueprint for our lives, since it predates physical creation. The Torah is thus able to instruct us in all times and places. Related to this is the notion of Ma’aseh Bereshit consciousness—renewing the work of creation each and every day.

A related concept is the notion that, as we learn later in the creation story, we were created in the image of God so we could be God’s partners in the renewing of creation on a daily basis, creating a world as it should be. This is a momentous task indeed. Though the Or HaMeir does not explicitly reference this idea, he does talk about the notion that the religious life should be rooted in a Ma’aseh Bereshit consciousness. Mitzvot are not merely what they appear to be on the surface—there is much more lying beneath. Though we aspire to be shomrei mitzvot, all of us find ourselves connecting to some mitzvot over others, finding deeper meaning in some practices over others, etc. Indeed, there is also here to be found an idea that individual Jews tend to connect to a specific mitzvah that somehow calls out to their soul.

This notion of an individually meaningful mitzvah I believe is the key to thinking about the religious life and halakhic observance. We tend to think of halakhah as a rigid, unchanging system, and if we are not careful, we can easily do things by rote, instead of doing all of our religious rites and rituals with a sense of profound kavannah, which the Or haMeir is calling us to do here. It is easy to become bored, to daven thrice daily, put on tefillin, even keep Shabbat according to the strictest halakhic interpretation and all the while do so devoid of any kind of spiritual grounding or kavannah.

Too many of us find ourselves despairing of ever being:”good enough Jews” if we aren’t strictly observant. And conversely, too many of us find ourselves going through the motions of a religious life without any sort of devikut or kavannah. What would it look like for us to each pick a mitzvah—any mitzvah—and do it with the Ma’aseh Bereshit consciousness the Or haMeir so beautifully talks about? For those of us who are not so traditionally observant, may this be an opportunity for us to connect deeply with a mitzvah that calls out to our souls. And for those of us who feel bogged down by the minutia of mitzvot, may we find that mitzvah that makes our heart and soul sing and do that mitzvah with the kavannah we wish we could apply to all mitzvot. Starting with that one mitzvah will, God willing lead us to a richly rewarding ritual and spiritual life.