Many midrashim and medieval texts, like the following, have suggested that God created many worlds.
That this world was not the first that God created was believed to be indicated by Isaiah 65:17: “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth and the former shall not be remembered nor come to mind.”
Zohar Hadash identifies the prior worlds as totaling 1,000, as does Or ha-Hayim 1:12, which states that before God created this world, God created a thousand hidden worlds. These hidden worlds were created through the first letter, aleph. That is why the Torah, in the report of the creation of this world, commences with the second letter, bet.
“One after another, God created a thousand worlds, which preceded this one. And all of them were swept away in the wink of an eye. God went on creating worlds and destroying worlds until He created this one and declared, “This one pleases me, those did not.” That is how God created the heaven and the earth as we know it, as it is said, “For, behold! I am creating a new heaven and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17).
Genesis Rabbah 3:7: “But what, God forbid! if because of our actions, this world is merely one of God’s unstable trials?”
As we move through the month of Elul we have the opportunity to work on ourselves, in the hope that we might begin a new year ready to make changes and to be the person we feel we could be. At Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of the world, and as we begin 5780 we know that our actions are increasingly not only impacting on our ‘environment’ (as if we ourselves were somehow detached from it) but changing and endangering our futures in the world.
This Elul, therefore, Reform Judaism is focussing on what wisdom and reflection Judaism can offer us, and encourage us in the changes necessary to make a difference in the upcoming year. Though we begin with ourselves, we do not end with ourselves. The changes we make, in our attitudes, understanding and behaviour affect all around us – our families, communities, our work place, the organisations we belong to, the government and the world itself. It begins with us.
The texts and reflections for this series have been drawn together by Rabbi Jeffrey Newman and Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, together with members of the Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors who are credited individually when appropriate. Reflecting together and learning in partnership has made this a much more meaningful process for us, and if you have the time and someone willing, we hope these texts might also provide a wonderful opportunity for learning with a partner (or chavruta). As Pirkei Avot 1:6 says “make for yourself a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend”.