Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – B’reishit

“Where have all the flowers gone.” For a host of reasons, I hate loving this song: especially at this time of year. I look forward to loving this song, when it will no longer speak to me. This song is about the cycle of life and death. Our life cycles are a normal part of living, but this song speaks about anything but a normal life cycle. The moment we come into being, we know that our time on earth is finite. This song reminds us that this already finite time keeps being cut short as hopes are dashed, as violence perpetuates … as hopes are dashed. The flowers get picked by young girls who marry young men. The young men go off to war to die, be buried and replenish the soil that promotes flowers.

We have just experienced the Jewish New Year. We are renewing our calendar cycle. We are moving from Summer into Fall, with the expectations that we will continue from Fall into Winter to Spring and then back to Summer. Changes in seasons bring changes in the demeanor of both the weather and the earth that endures or celebrates the weather changes. We get hurricanes and we get flowers. The change in seasons brings joy and hope. The cycle continues over and over again each year. This is why I find myself unable to look at each New Year and not hear this song playing over and over in my head.

Just a short period into this New Year, we completed a monumental march for justice. We walked 1000 miles to call attention to the violence we still have to endure in this world. We marched against the spiritual violence of discrimination and degradation. We marched against the physical violence that takes precious life from our earth. Whether it is the police officer shot or having shot, the wars across the world, or the reality that in the secular year of 2015, Americans have witnessed 295 mass shootings (4 or more people injured or killed) in 280 days; 45 of those have happened in our schools. We have not experienced more than 8 days in a row this year, without a mass shooting. These numbers do not include the broader picture: 30,000 more victims in almost 40,000 gun incidents this year. Dating back to 2004, over 400,000 people have died by firearms on American soil. This horrifying statistic shows that we have lost more people to gun violence in this country than we lost to all of the Vietnam War … multiplied by three … and in less years than it took to fight the one war that happened. Our horrific reality is that it is safer to send our children into military war than to school or the store. These acts of violence do not even touch the injuries/deaths caused by our abuse of nature or power, or our neglect of folks around us who perish in our lack of concern for health care, housing, and hunger..

This week we read about the creation of the world. We just celebrated it weeks ago, and now we are studying all of the possible intentions behind the act of creation. After each act, God felt that what God had done was good. The only act over which God equivocates is the creation of humanity. Still, though, God gives us dominion over the earth and entrusts us with stewardship over everything that God created. It is time for a check in with truth. Our biography is not our destiny, and tomorrow, we have the power to change the entire world. Enough people die naturally, as we are supposed to die, to replenish the fields of flowers for our young girls to pick. In some parts of our tradition, we believe that our purpose is to actually finish the act of creation. God fashioned the piece of art but needs us to finish and polish the rough edges. A new archeological find demonstrates that our “human” origins are 10 million years old. Over the course of 10 million years, I fear that instead of polishing we are chipping away at the surface. Instead of fine sandpaper, we expect sledgehammers to do the job. We have breached our covenant of stewardship. Still though, there are the voices that remind us of our higher selves; who help us lift from the nightmares of violence to remember the teaching of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” So I defy the vision my eyes see in the news, and still, every year celebrate the hope to make real the vision of my soul. “We shall overcome.” “We will beat our swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.” “None shall be afraid.”

Where have all the young men gone? I pray that the young men who grow to love and appreciate these young girls picking flowers as they mature, live long enough to celebrate their love … in safety and in peace. Shabbat Shalom