Before God could separate the upper and the lower worlds, light from day, earth from water, he was sitting in a tiny room, unable to move. Whenever his mouth would begin to open to say “Vayehi,” he would be overcome. Each day, God would wake up, intending to create the world, and each day, God would be unable to. Sometimes he’d find a physical reason. His hands were too shaky. Other times, he’d find a distraction. Other times, he’d just stare off into space or turn on AngelNews. God surrounded himself with blueprints of his world, but the execution was not something he could bring himself to do. Perhaps on some level God understood that the Creation of the World was also his goodbye, the inauguration of a world that would grow not to need him. Was he ready to write himself out of existence just yet? So Gabriel came before the Lord and said, “I know you are afraid. I know the world you’ll make will not be perfect, that it will only be one possible world and not the ideal world in your mind. But if you impart to it all of your love, you will find peace.”
Bereishit is Hebrew for “In the beginning,” the opening words and the title of the Book of Genesis.
Vayehi: Form of the Hebrew verb “to be” translated variously as “let there be” or “and there was”
This prose poem (and we’ll get back to the issue of prose poems anon) suggests that everyone, even the most powerful being imaginable, sometimes has moments of weakness and needs a friend. The weakness here is procrastination about finishing a project – in this case, the Creation of the World. The poem begins with symptoms of depression: low energy, feelings of worthlessness and indecisiveness as manifested in God’s inability to get started on implementing ideas. He finds excuses, he is distracted, he passively watches television.
Why does God procrastinate when obviously, in the form of intentions and “blueprints,” he has already invested a great in the project? He is depicted here (with all due respect) as a control freak who fears to let go when the result might not be perfect, in the mistaken conviction that the best one can do is not good enough and there must be some absolute and flawless “best” – “the ideal world in your mind.”
In three stages, the friend – Gabriel – persuades God to loosen up, let go, trust himself and implement his plan. First, he gently acknowledges fear, though it is unproductive. Then he encourages acceptance of imperfection and the fact that that the proposed solution is just one of many possibilities. Finally, he promises a reward for going ahead: “If you impart to it all of your love, you will find peace.”
And why is this in the form of a prose poem? The poet is commenting on his own art. One of the greatest creative powers a poet has is choosing how long a line will be and where to break it. Here, in an ironic reflection of the situation in the poem, Zohar Atkins chooses not to exercise this power.
Atkins grew up in Montclair, New Jersey and is a second year rabbinical school student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He currently lives in Jerusalem, where he teaches ecstatic dance and creative writing modeled on the Talmud. He holds a DPhil in Theology from The University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and an A.M. and an A.B. from Brown University.
*Musing: Why would God’s Creation of the World be “his goodbye?”
*Fill in the blanks: This poem can be read as a description of Israel’s diplomatic situation, with _______ manufacturing excuses and unable to move towards peace, despite encouragement by ______ as Gabriel. Is there hope? Well, ultimately God did say “Vayehi.”
*Bonus: Carole King sings “You’ve got a friend”