Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – B’reishit
This Shabbat, we once again begin reading the story of humanity. Scholars debate the first words of Torah. “Braeshit bara Elohim, et ha shamayim v’et ha-aretz .” Some will translate this to read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Others will read it, “In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth.” Amidst the many other translations (remember Hebrew has no vowels and no sentence structure), perhaps my favorite would render, “As God began creating these heavens and this earth…” Some call this the beginning of creation of all things, others of this world, others refer to this as the beginning of our story (hence, my opening sentence). Others argue that the Torah begins with the second letter of the alphabet to show that there were previous creations (other worlds or the miraculous building blocks that had to pre-exist the creation of this world). Many will argue that the symbolic language of creation exists to create the debate as to how and when the world was created. There are studies comparing the different creation stories that exist in Genesis (there are at least four in the first six chapters) arguing that they support or debunk the veracity of the others. Volumes upon volumes have been written on the truth about creation. My response? Who cares?
OK, from a purely scientific approach to the conundrum, if we learn how the universe forms, we can perhaps predict its mutation and eventual termination. Even for the folks who believe that this is all in God’s providence, the science can help speak to how “God’s will” unfolds over time. I get it. I don’t expect (barring a cataclysmic disaster or invasion from another planet) that the world as I know it, is going to end in my lifetime (or for a while after that). So, I have to look at all the energy being spent on trying to prove or disprove the Bible’s story of creation as being pretty much blasphemous, in the face of our religious mandates to serve (and even save) humanity. The Creation Museum, the rebuilding of Noah’s Ark, the archaeological expeditions bent on proving or disproving the Bible … I don’t get it. None of that speaks to the way in which we interact in ways to make lives better. If they found the actual ark, if they found the actual Garden of Eden, if someone could prove that one of the creation stories actually happened, it would not change my faith. I could be no more religious with these proofs than I am without them. Hinging my entire faith on these stories would be superstition, not faith.
Faith comes from our experiences in the world. Faith comes from feeling divinity manifest in every breath one takes, and the relationships one shares, and the things that pass us by every day that should make us stop and say – as Jacob is purported to have said – “Wow, God was in this place, and I, I did not know it!” As we recycle the Torah tradition, we need to look at the Bible with eyes tuned on gleaning the text for its ethical underpinnings.
We walk sightless among miracles, and the opportunity to create miracles. The religious world’s obsession with how and when (and why) the world began serves only to distract us from the pursuit of the miraculous so readily available to us and which screams for our attention. Faith demands intentional engagement with the world. My tradition (Pirke Avot) teaches that someone so immersed in scriptural study that they divest from an understanding of the real world has brought a blemish to the Torah. Maimonides even argues that such a person will end up stealing from other people. We have an obligation to share our lives with each other, and when we withhold our portion or make sharing that portion contingent on getting our way, we blaspheme. The unfortunate truth is that in the fundamentalisms of religions all over the world, this is what happens. These people may be the most “religious” but they carry the least amount of faith and spirituality. The message that they preach is that the only truth that exists is theirs. Yet, we wonder why so many people are running from religion … not divinity, just religion.
The Biblical authors knew this, though. The same ones who edited the beginning part edited the later texts. It is one book. We read later on, that, Job ran around trying on all different “religions,” trying to make sense out of God. He has long soliloquies about how powerful God is, how arbitrary and capricious God is … how evil and thoughtless God is. Finally, in exasperation, the authors depict God calling from the midst of the whirlwinds, “Where were you when I created the world? What makes you think that you know how this stuff works?”
So, our challenge this year is to study for the purpose of doing and serving, not for the purpose of knowing. We can’t know, and if we wait to serve until after we know … the world will fail. We have the opportunity, in every interaction, to choose life. Works for me!
Rabbi Marc A. Kline