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Parshat Bereishit: Yaysh V’Ayin: Being Something

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

The Torah begins, “In the beginning, Hashem created heaven and earth.” The Kedushat Levi notes that this verse establishes a fundamental principle.  Everything in the world is an extension of Hashem’s will. Not only did Hashem create the world but he continues to renew it every day.

In Shachrit we say, “Yotzer ohr u’borei choshech.” He creates light and darkness.  Creation is an ongoing process. The world continuously exists by the active will of Hashem. This should elicit two reactions from us. The first: incredible gratitude that at every moment Hashem, out of his infinite chesed, is giving us life. The second: we have no independent existence. We cannot accomplish anything without Hashem giving us the ability to do it. In a sense, we are nothing but the expression of Hashem’s will. If a person would internalize this, there would be no place for the yetzer hara and its evil urges. Doing mitzvot and avoiding sin would become instinctual.  This is the concept of ayin, nothingness. Modern society propounds the exact opposite. The yesh, the I, is everything and man has the power to be whatever he chooses to be.

Rav Levi Yitzchak explains that the blessing recited under the chupah, “Asher yatzer et hadam” referes to Hashem as the creator of man in the past tense.  Hashem left us to finish the task of self-creation. On the one hand we are ayin and on the other hand we are a yesh. We all have unique qualities and abilities which are meant to be expressed and utilized to affect and change the world. Hashem put Adam into Gan Eden l’avda, to develop it and l’shamra, and to protect it. When a person uses his wisdom guided by the Torah to think creatively, to plan and to dream, then he is a yesh. But if he just follows his physical instincts and lets his desires control him then he is an ayin, he is nothing.  

We can manipulate things within nature but we are limited by its laws. However, if a person makes himself into an ayin, submitting His will to Hashem, he can align himself with the Creator, who is above limitation. Then he can rise above physicality and perform miracles.

These two concepts of yesh and ayin are hidden in the letters of Hashem’s name. Yud keh is the secret level of Hashem. He is concealed, distant and above nature. Vav heh parallels Hashem in this world. The vav is the connection from the outside world to this world and the heh represents this world. Performing a mitzvah affects not only this world but the hidden world too.

May we merit to become partners with Hashem and to transform this world to the next world with the power of Torah.

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