By Barbara Lewis
October 25, 2003
This morning we read the very first portion of the Torah, B’reishit. In particular, we read about the creation of our world as we know it. We began study of the Torah from the beginning – anew.
So the “renewal”, if you will, continues. Back in Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah, we really started this process: examining ourselves to find where we had done well and where we had fallen short. From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur we asked forgiveness from others for our misgivings with them and likewise forgave them theirs. On Yom Kippur itself, we pleaded for forgiveness from God and asked to be sealed in the Book of Life, a sign that we would start the New Year on sure footing. Hopefully, we followed Alan Pollack’s suggestion and made a commitment to perform at least one Mitzvah this year that we hadn’t done before. So here we are, with a rebirth in our lives just as we begin reading the Torah from the beginning again.
Everything is as it should be.
A lot happens very quickly in this first parasha: the world – from light to human beings in God’s own image – is created in six days. A day of rest is set aside as holy. Man is given a help meet and the pair is instructed to name all the living creatures on the earth. Humankind receives its first negative commandment from God, and almost immediately disobeys it. This portion also tells the story of the first couple’s children, particularly Cain and Abel, the first example of sibling rivalry and violence between those created in the God’s image. God made us “be-tzelmo” – in his likeness. The Hebrew word for camera or to photograph is the same word that appears in Genesis to describe how we were created: Letzalem. Yet, from that very beginning and until now, we strive to emulate the One who created us as his “photograph”, if you will. Jews praise God three times a day everyday for His thirteen precious attributes. How we wish we had them too! Why is it that we don’t seem to have them all, all the time? After all, we were created in God’s image: he has them, so why not us? In my opinion, we do have them – all of them. God made us like Him; he didn’t fail us! We just forget sometimes how very good we really are!
As we read in this parashah, we fell short in this regard from the very beginning and continue to do so to this very day. The sages say, and I tend to agree, that our troubles started because we lacked faith and trust in our Creator: Adam ve’Hava ate from the forbidden tree, thinking nothing would really happen even though they were commanded not to. They were expelled from Gan Eden. Cain killed his brother Abel, an act he must have known was wrong because he then tried to hide it from God. He too had to leave his home. As we know, humankind, and later the Israelites, suffered calamity after calamity as a direct result of not listening to and trusting God’s wisdom and judgment throughout the entire Tanach and until today.
On the other hand, God kept faith with His people, making and fulfilling promise after promise, always giving us another chance. I won’t give an historical synopsis of human history; I think the evidence is well known. How sad, though, that in over 5763 years we still haven’t learned! Or if we have, we haven’t consistently applied these teachings to our lives to make a difference!
Why? Of all the creatures God made, He gave only to us the ability to reason and free will. We can choose whether to follow His commandments or not, to walk in His way or not. In my opinion, He gave us a double-edged sword. The “freedom” we have can either bring us closer or pull us away from our greater good (His likeness). We want so much to emulate God’s 13 attributes, yet when it comes to the nitty-gritty, we opt to bypass the path He has shown us. We want to do our own thing, our own way. And, as we all know, there are consequences for our actions. When we choose do something loving in a caring, silent and selfless way, what a great reward we get! No words can express the wonderful feeling we have! On the other hand, if we so much as offend someone for our own selfish purposes (often just to get even), no words can express how awful we feel afterward – maybe not right away, but eventually. I believe we learn from our mistakes but sometimes we don’t put what we learn into practice – we choose an easier path, and so we fall again.
Let’s all try this year to commit to making wise, loving choices so we can grow closer to the “tzilum” (image) of our Creator. That’s what He wanted for us from the very beginning and still does! He is ever faithful to us, giving us new opportunities every year, every day, every minute for Teshuvah and renewal.
In closing, I would like to remind everyone of the last paragraph I read, the one about the seventh day. We read this paragraph every Erev Shabbat as a reminder of the holiness of the day of rest.
At this point in human history, it’s not a commandment but a blessing. “Ve-yevarech Elohim et Yom Hash’fi’I veyekadesh oto ki bo shavat mi kol melachto asher bara Elohim lasot.” “And God will bless the seventh day and make it holy because he finished all the work which he had created to make.” May we strive to keep this day holy and special, a day different from all other days – as it was from the very beginning of Creation!