Shaya Cohen -


Creative Conundrums





Why Not Recreate Nature?

For your own sake, therefore, be most careful—since you saw no shape when G-d spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, not to act wickedly and make for yourselves a sculptured image in any likeness whatever: the form of a man or a woman, the form of any beast on earth, the form of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the form of anything that creeps on the ground, the form of any fish that is in the waters below the earth.

This injunction seems to apply even if the thing would never be worshipped. Does that mean that pasuk is not necessarily about idol worship? If so, why? Why do you suppose we are forbidden from making any images?

Could it be that our creativity is supposed to be dedicated to truly emulate G-d, by making things that never existed before (e.g. airplanes instead of ornithopters?)?

Or otherwise … perhaps the injunction against making things is really meant to encourage us to spend our energies thinking instead of physically crafting?

Is there a better way to explain the plain meaning of the text?

What Does Horeb Symbolize?

Now Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. … Moses returned to Horeb with the people after the Exodus, and it is where he ascended the mountain and was given the Torah.

Horeb is the place we received the Torah! So it must be good, right? Not so fast! That very same root word as Horeb, ch-r-v, can be used for violent things, too?!

Simeon and Levi use ch-r-v – their swords – to lay waste to Shechem. The Torah also uses the same word to describe how the Jewish people kill Bilaam. How is killing (even righteous killing) possibly linked to Sinai?

G-d similarly promises to destroy the cities of the Jews if we ignore G-d – if we ignore our own potential to spiritually grow:

I will lay your cities in ch-r-v and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors. (Lev. 26:31) … And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the ch-r-v against you. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ch-r-v. (Lev. 26:33)

What is the possible connection between Mount Sinai and the ruination and destruction by the sword promised elsewhere?

Perhaps an answer can be found by examining the other uses of that root word? The word is used, for example, to describe the ground beneath the Sea of Reeds, the dry land that the people walked on in order to leave Egypt: Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and G-d drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into ch-r-v.

ch-r-v similarly seems to refers to dry land after the Flood: In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the waters began to ch-r-v from the earth; and when Noah removed the covering of the ark, he saw that the surface of the ground was ch-r-v.

What is the commonality?

Perhaps the word ch-r-v refers to potential? The earth, having been washed, is now ready for new life, for physical and spiritual growth. Similarly the Jewish people, walking out of Egypt are reborn in the midst of the waters, also ready for growth. In both cases, there was total ruin – but there was also life, the possibility of creating anew, hope for the future. Is this a plausible understanding for the potential of this word?

Indeed, is the word ch-r-v connected to fertility, to the potential that plants and animals offer? When Jacob complains to Lavan that he had labored to manage and grow Lavan’s flock, he says, I was consumed by ch-r-v by day. Was Jacob obsessed with his job, consumed by the need to make the sheep breed, to maximize their physical potential to grow and procreate?

But if this is true, connecting Sinai to the post-flood might suggest that the giving of the Torah was not the culmination of Jewish History, but the start of it, the place from which we were supposed to only grow from – not back toward?

Could this explain why G-d orders the people to leave Horeb: “Our G-d spoke to us at Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” The place of revelation is only the launching point, the place where we receive our mission: the execution of that mission is how we are meant to flourish?

Had the Jews at Sinai/Horeb not fulfilled their potential, at least not at that point?

Is this the pattern? Are we supposed to be at Horeb? Or is it merely a starting point? After all, Isaac’s blessing to Esau that by your sword (ch-r-v) you shall live, seems to prophecy that Esau’s existence would always be one of primal constraint, permanently kept in an unfulfilled state. This is the same unfulfilled state as that of all the men who perished in the flood, described as All in whose nostrils was the breath of life [mankind], all that was ch-r-v, died. The flood generation (and Esau) did not fulfill their potential?

So maybe Horeb is never meant to be the destination, but instead the point of origination?

The very first time in the Torah that the word ch-r-v is found is when it describes the angel on the path to Eden:

East of the garden of Eden were stationed the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword (ch-r-v), to guard the way to the tree of life.

Think of the imagery after what we now know of this word! The angel is the guardian of the potential that is within the tree of life, blocking us from the potential, the might-have-been, had we stayed in Eden. That ch-r-v is now barred from us, and that chapter closed?

But isn’t it equally true that, considering how often the word is used after Eden, human potential remains?! Is the Torah telling us that we need to remember that new things can come from the ashes of even divinely-inflicted ruination (note that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah never uses ch-r-v – those places are destroyed for eternity, becoming remembered as the Dead Sea)? Hence all the references to Horeb, the place where we received the revelation of the Torah, the starting point for the Jews as a single nation charged with a shared mission for ourselves and for the world?

Might Horeb, Ch-r-v, symbolize the starting gate, the moment and place of potential and possibility? Is it the way in which we can – and must – grow both physically and spiritually in order to connect with G-d and achieve everything that we can become?

Or is there a better explanation for all the ways this word is used in the text?

This parsha question sheet takes the approach of reading the Chumash very closely, and without reference to anything other than the Chumash itself. It is assumed that every letter and word has meaning, and all questions can be answered (at least every one we have come up so far!) So you’ll find the questions offered every week are deeply textual, seeking relevance to our lives today from the foundational document for Judaism and indeed all of Western Civilization. 

This sheet is distributed with the general approval of Rabbi Rose.

Our answers can be found at (use the search tool). Or email me at

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