Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Bereishit
Order from nothingness. The literal text tells us that God created the world ex nihilo – out of nothing. Well, not quite nothing. Our morning liturgy reminds us that “God spoke and the world came into being.” Something had to exist for God’s command to have mattered. I can command the cake to bake, but if there are no ingredients and no oven, we will not be eating dessert. Torah calls this stuff “Tohu va Vohu.” The best translation I ever heard for this phrase came from a colleague who said, “Yucky” stuff. All of the majesty that we appreciate in this world originates in yuckiness. What we experience, stemming from this “yuckiness” are the most luscious of roses, most succulent melons, breathtaking canyons and forests, and all of the things in the world that make us go, “WOW!” Four plus years ago, we moved to the New Jersey shore. I had never lived this close to water. I stand in awe every time I go to the ocean and realize that this is not a vacation – it is my home.
At the same time, I recognize that creation continues to unfold and the universe still teems with “yuckiness.” Torah does not say that God finished all creation, only that God finished these acts of creation (the first week) and then rested. The story of creation continues throughout the rest of the Bible, every sacred text of all traditions, and most definitely through the relationships, we nurture and ignore.
Some of that yucky stuff exists all around us and within us. We are all works in progress, as is the world around us. Each morning we remind ourselves of this ongoing need for positive created energy. In the morning liturgy, we read “Baruch Sh’amar v’haya ha-olam. Praise is the One who spoke and the world came into being.” According to Biblical tradition, God created with speech. “Let there be light, and there was light.” This morning prayer reminds of two crucial life lessons and motivators. Each of us has an obligation to remember the power of our mouths. Made in the image of God, we have capacities little less than divine. We also create, and we do so as we open our mouths. We speak and create atmosphere between people. The second reminder built into this prayer is that we create with the same yucky stuff with which God did.
If we fail to be intentional in creating good out of yucky, it stays yucky. After each day of creation in this week’s opening Torah portion, God looks at how yuckiness transformed into a blessing and declared it, “Good.” We stand obliged to be able to look at all that we create, able to make the same declaration. “Good” takes effort. Living amidst the yuckiness is default behavior, and even where we will agree that we despise “yucky” (except for power mongers who love seeing us stuck and distracted in it), we often do not seem very motivated to participate in the transformation. We seem perfectly content to live in the chaos that leaves our world and relationships in disarray.
Perhaps as we renew our Torah cycle and continue our celebration of the new year, might it be possible to take a step back and pay attention? We pray for peace. We pray for oppressed people’s ascension to freedom and prosperity. We will revere the prophets and sages, our Biblical, folklore, and historical heroes who stood up to be counted and helped open our eyes to challenges – the yuckiness all around. Their life lessons compel us to model our behavior after theirs and our morals after the ones that bring healing into the world. We then go about our business as if they never existed. We need to do more.
Torah continues to present us with the choice that we have to make between the blessing and the curse. The blessing heals us and moves us forward. The curse may benefit some people, but always at the expense of another. The blessing affirms the majesty of life. The curse kills the spirit – even of those who benefit from the world remaining yucky. In every case, faith commands us to choose life. Shabbat Shalom.