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

I remember Harry Chapin’s song, “Flowers are Red.” For those who do not remember it, a child goes to school and when the time for art comes, he starts painting flowers of every kind. “There are so many colors in the rainbow; so many colors in the morning sun; so many colors in a flower; and I use every one.” The teacher put him in time out and scolded him, “Flowers are red, young man. Green leaves are green. There is no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always had been seen.”

Needless to say, the child grew afraid of being browbeaten and started painting in only green and red (and in straight lines).

He moved to another school. He painted flowers and leaves in green and red. The new teacher smiled and said, “There are so many colors in the rainbow; so many colors in the morning sun; so many colors in a flower; so let’s use every one.” The child could only continue to paint in green and red.

We all have lots to say and many of us have strong opinions. When we use our speech and opinions to hold people back and stifle them, we abuse our speech.

From our early morning liturgy, “Baruch Sh’amar ha olam barukh hu. God spoke and the world came into being.”

The first set of Ten Commandments in the Bible are the words in Genesis Chapter 1. According to the text, God created with ten commands. We recite the above prayer to remind ourselves that we, created in God’s image also create with speech. We also destroy with speech. It takes effort to always be intentional about attending to each other’s dignity, but that struggle is the struggle of faith.

Every year we complete and restart the cycle of reading the whole Torah. Every year, we are supposed to accept the command to see it through new eyes. We must bring new perspective, brought on by the years of experiences that we walked through during the previous year.

This is the first full week of the new reading cycle. We must ask ourselves, how can we use speech to heal the world this year. Too many used it to destroy it last year. Were we amongst those who abused and degraded others? Did we help bring truth (even if unpopular) without calling people names or diminishing their human value? Did our words bring healing into people’s worlds? Did we commit ourselves to the ultimate mission of Jewish life: to make peace when there is strife?

We have a new year and a new opportunity to rethink our behaviors and default attitudes. I pray that we use our words only for blessing. Shabbat Shalom.