Water represents the initial stage of every creative process
“Behold, I am bringing the flood, water upon the earth… all that is upon the earth will perish.” (Bereishis 6:17)
Why did Hashem specifically choose to destroy the world with a flood, as opposed to any other form of destruction? What’s the significance of water?
The Maharal explains that the fundamental nature of water is that it’s formless — it takes on the shape of its container. The ocean has no pathways or markers within it, unlike dry land.
As such, water represents the initial stage of every creative process. Before something is expressed and acquires shape, it resides in a formless and amorphous state. Only afterward does a physical shape emerge. That’s why, during the original creation of the world, there was initially only water. (Rav Shmuel Reichman)
Genes are funny things. Mix and match and the results are an adorable boy with his grandfather’s eyes and his mother’s nose. Mix some more and you’ve got a daughter who looks just like her first cousin, except said cousin looks just like her first cousin on the other side who isn’t related to your daughter at all. My girls and I love discussing new babies’ faces: his mother’s chin, my great-grandfather’s eyebrows.
Last Adar I decided to have some fun and take old Gregor Mendel’s experiments a bit further. (Think he’s related to your Great-Uncle Mendel?)
I printed photos from a recent family simchah, using each child’s portrait. Then I took the prints and carefully cut out the nose, eyes, eyebrows, and mouth, mixing up all the facial properties into one big pile. Each child received his face, minus these identifying features. The game was on.
This is the concept behind the Mabul: Hashem was not destroying the world, He was recreating it. The Dor Hamabul had become so corrupted that Hashem decided to begin again with Noach alone. Hashem therefore immersed the world in water, so that it could return to its primordial state of formlessness and void. Only then could the dry land emerge from the waters, recreated. This concept is also seen with a child in its mother’s womb, a convert immersing in a mikveh, Klal Yisrael emerging from the Yam Suf.
Avi leaned across the table and snagged a nose. “This is for sure mine,” he chortled. “Cuz I don’t have freckles.”
“But Avi, you have tons of freckles!” yelled Binyamin. “That nose is mine!”
One daughter insisted she’d recognize her own eyebrows; after all she’s been critiquing them for ages. But it seems her sister has the exact same eyebrows — she even shapes them the same. Now what?
The discussion began to get heated, and facial parts flew. My daughter swore that I never printed her teeth, but she was surprised to discover that her eight-year-old brother shared her smile. Giggles turned into gales as my husband decided he’d had his own eyes for the last several decades; he wanted to try mine on. Since we’re only related through marriage, the results were definitely not genetically deceiving.
Personally I think I’ll keep my own eyes, as I’ve always been partial to their color, something most of my family doesn’t share. But it was amazing to see how changing one small aspect of the face resulted in a completely different persona.
Imagine a person waking up with amnesia in the hospital. Despite his lack of memory, he’s informed that he’s the president of the United States. Wouldn’t he feel pride despite his inability to remember his position?
Now, suppose the same patient is informed that he’s supposed to be incarcerated. He’s still clueless as to his past, but his future seems low.
We don’t need amnesia to recreate our identity. Every day, we get to choose who we are, what we believe in, and how we’re going to live our lives. We don’t have to continue making the same mistakes again and again — we can recreate our identities.
As the photos began filling up, I studied each face studiously bent over his portrait, piecing together his profile. Suddenly an idea struck me. Why not mix and match personalities? My emotion with my husband’s steadfast logic? His Gemara kop with my attention to detail? Avi’s sense of justice with Yitzi’s sense of humor? Imagine if we could each pick and choose the best of personality traits we’d like to emulate. Wouldn’t the results be stupendous?
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 714)
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