Bereshit 29 Tishrei 5782
When we are children, the only thing we are interested in is today. When we get older, if we are wise, we realize that we need to face our past before we are able to move on to a healthy future. That’s what the Torah does for us. Before I came back to it, I spent years running from my past, even ashamed of it, not knowing that I had such a rich heritage. I think that my parents and grandparents didn’t pass it down to us simply because somewhere down the line, they had also lost touch with their roots, the Torah.
Here in Bereshit, we find ourselves at the beginning of all things. The Hebrew word Bereshit is translated – “in the beginning” although it doesn’t have the Hebrew letter “heh” which means “the”, so it could mean “in beginning” or “in a beginning”. I spent at least half an hour just reading the various opinions about this first word in the Torah so I thought if it takes that long to research, to think, and speak about just one word, how many more gems might we find in the depths of its pages. It’s impossible in these few moments to speak about everything in this parashah but certain things jumped out at me. It’s important to distance ourselves from what we hear about the Torah and to simply sit down in quiet and read the words for ourselves.
As I was reading, I tried picturing what was happening at that time. It was like watching a science fiction movie in my mind; imagining the darkness (חֹשֶׁךְ – chosheh) into which God introduced light (אוֹר – ohr). Like a great symphony of motion! I was surprised to see that on Day One light came into being, before the two bodies that reflect it were created…the sun and the moon; they were formed on the Fourth Day. Even more mystical was the fact that grass, herbs, and fruit trees were created on the Third Day… before the sun came into existence. That would mean that vegetation doesn’t depend upon the sunlight to grow, rather it depends upon the Creator of all things. I’m sure farmers can attest to that!
In Verse 14, it says “And God said: ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to divide the day from the night, and let them be for “signs” – לאֹתֹת (ohtot) and for “seasons” – לְמוֹעֲדִים (moedim) …;” I wondered what kind of signs were they. The first sign we read about in the Torah was the rainbow, the sign of God’s promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood. The Shabbat is also a sign. We recite this in the V’Shamru every Shabbat, “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; ….”. And “sign” appears again in the Shema and the V’ahavta in Deut. 6: 8 “And you shall bind them (God’s Words) for a sign upon your hand, ….” Before returning to God’s Torah, I used to look for signs in everything to help me make decisions and let me tell you, I found them although I was never quite sure if they were pointing in the right direction; often they were not. That’s why people are so hooked to astrology because they are always looking for signs. However, it’s important to know the right place to look!
The word Moedim, which was also mentioned in verse 14, means more than seasons; they allude to God’s Seven Appointed Festivals, His Moedim that we would learn about later. We just completed the last festival of the year’s cycle (Sukkot). It’s so exciting to me to know that everything has a beginning; it doesn’t come out of nowhere, and when our beginnings are rooted in God’s Truth, our present and our future can proceed in the right direction. These are not “religious” holidays for the Jews alone; they were created for all humanity as a sign of the very existence of the Creator. When we replace them with our own appointed times, we are replacing the Creator. I’m sure you can think of plenty of these holidays.
Forgetting the words of the Creator has other consequences. Verse 28 says: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth.” Having dominion over something means being responsible for its well-being. If only humanity was to listen and obey this, all our environmental problems would disappear.
The next idea I gleaned from verse 31 which tells us that “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” How often do you and I complete a task and stop and say to ourselves, “that was very good?” I believe that this simple step is vital to our well-being. We are made in His image. He gave us qualities that are divine and deserve honor. It is so easy to tear ourselves down; most of us do that daily, in some small way, women I think more than men. That’s why it is so important to do as Rav Shaul wrote in 2 Cor. 10:3, 5 “For although we are human, it is not by human methods that we do battle …. It is ideas that we demolish,5 every presumptuous notion that is set up against the knowledge of God, and we bring every thought into captivity and obedience to Him;” Fear, anxiety, depression, insecurities and so on are related to our focus. Where is the main focus of our attention? If we remain focused upon what is going on in the world, we will lose. We need to focus upon “the knowledge of God.” Then we can do what we are called to do. As my good friend Minna says, “don’t worry, worship!”
Then I read verse 25 of chapter two after God created Adam and Eve, “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” I began my drash today by saying that I had spent so many years running from my past because I was ashamed of things I had done. Instead of facing them and acknowledging them, I continued on the same path that Adam and Eve had taken when they both blamed the Creator as well as someone else for their choice to be disobedient. Remember we choose to obey or disobey. God never accused them the way we constantly accuse ourselves. He simply asked them a question…” where are you”? He wasn’t referring to a physical location, rather, He was asking, “Adam where is your head”? Adam replied, “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid”. What would make Adam afraid? Until that moment, every experience that he had with the Creator was good. So why did he hide?
It seems that it is our very nature to run away from our fear or our shame both of which are connected. Neither is caused by the Creator who is more interested in our guilt. That is why the Torah teaches us to deal with our guilt. Guilt can be dealt with while shame hangs over our heads like a dark cloud bringing on depression and illness. The Creator asked us to bring guilt offerings to Him. They weren’t for Him; they were for us. That’s what we do when we bring an offering to God. First, we are acknowledging that our head and our heart are in the wrong place and now, we want to make restitution so we can begin again. Adam had the opportunity to answer God’s question “where are you” but he didn’t take it.
In Bereshit, we also read about Cain and Abel both bringing their offerings of thanksgiving to the Creator; in so doing, they were showing Him …. where they were. Cain brought the leftovers from his garden while Abel brought the first fruits of his flock. Whenever we listen to a message about giving or tithing, we are being asked “where are you?” Some people may get upset, but unless the speaker is self-serving, they truly want the best for the person and their community. God is constantly asking us, “where are you”? How will we answer Him? Will we answer Him as Adam did or like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah did many years later…” Hineni” … “Here I am”. Do we bring to Him from our best or our leftovers after all our bills are paid? Do we get angry when confronted with it and react as Cain did?
The beauty of the Torah is that it always has a happy ending and a new beginning. After Cain killed his brother, God didn’t put him to death…although there were consequences. Gen. 4:26 says “And to Seth, there was born a son; and he called his name Enosh; then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” May we too call upon the name of the LORD and not be like Adam who refused to face his shame or answer the call “where are you?” Instead, let us be like Abraham and the others who said, “Hineni, Here I am”.