And YHWH Elohim formed Man out of dry, loose earth dirt Genesis 2:7a (my translation)
Formed – We’ve learned that this occurrence of yatsar contains a double Yod. The rabbis tell us that this indicates the two impulses of Man, the yetser ha-tov and the yester ha’ra. It’s pretty clear that tov (good) and ra (evil) fit our experience, but what else can we learn about the word yatsar? What does this verb tell us about the passion behind these two impulses?
Twenty times in Scripture the word is translated as “potter.” Ten more times is it translated as “purpose” or “form.” This word is connected with God’s creative work, the formation of a child in the womb, the molding of clay or metal, the crafting of weapons, the making of plans and God’s election. The primary idea behind yatsar is cutting and framing. Yatsar is purposeful effort. The pictograph shows us the image of “making a person’s desire.” Yatsar brings desire into being. When God’s actions are yatsar actions, they accomplish deliberate purposes. The same it true of us. We express the image of God in our purposeful actions. We make. We create. We engage. We plan. We select. All of these acts are expressions of the image of God. The image of God in Man is not some kind of static quality or quantity like your blood type or your gender. The image of God in Man is what you do. When you do what God does, you express God’s image and become human. Every human being is capable of bringing desire into being. That’s what makes us human.
But there is more than one way to make my desires a reality. When we express what God does not do, we still engage yatsar but we do it in ways that undermine or subvert God’s purposes. We don’t express the image of God. We become something other than human. To sin is simply to engage yatsar in ways that do not express the purpose of God in the formation of His image. To sin is to use yatsar for our own purposes, independent of God’s intended desire. In other words, yatsar, that power that drives us, arrives without direction. What results from that passion to create depends on the direction we give it. It’s not without consequence that the homophone of yatsar means “to be in distress, to be frustrated, to be in a state of anxiety” (Job 18:7 and 20:22). Yatsar in the wrong direction has unexpected consequences.
When Havvah expresses her revenge toward “the man” who would not forgive her, she exercises yatsar in the wrong direction. She knows that this creative power to produce another “man” is tied to the productive purposes of God. She believes that she is partnering with YHWH in this ultimate act of creation. She thinks she is expressing something akin to divine energy. But her motivation is clouded and her method is deficient. She barters her way into a substitution for Adam rather than domesticating her creative power to the will of YHWH. We need only reflect on the enormous difference between Havvah and Miriam (Mary) to see the two directions in action.
Let’s apply these insights to the idea of sin. James tells us that temptation is not sin. He says that each man is tempted by his own lusts (epithumias). Once tempted, a man is “drawn out” (James 1:14) by these lusts and seduced. After this seductive conception sin comes forth. In other words, temptation is a directional signal. It seeks to divert you from the path. If you follow the arrow of the temptation, it will produce sin. You will miss the mark. But you don’t need to! You don’t have to follow the arrow in a new direction. You don’t have to get off course. The same passion that can lead to a different direction can be harnessed to push us along the Way. The same energy, the same desire, the same creativity can be put into action to go straight rather than get sidetracked. The key is to see the direction, to look ahead and notice that this small turn leads away from God’s purposeful image.
Today you will get up in God’s grace. You will open your eyes to His world. You will breathe. That fulfills His purpose. Each moment of the day that you are doing what you were designed to do, you are drawing closer to Him. Eating, talking, walking, working, enjoying, engaging – they can all be harnessed to follow the Way. The only actions you must eliminate are the ones that take you in the wrong direction. And you can eliminate them with passion!
Topical Index: sin, passion, yatsar, Genesis 2:7, James 1:14