Bereshit: Creating With Goodness

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Bereshit

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. . . . .*

Dear Friends:

For everybody celebrating the holidays- I hope your Sukkot has been full of joy and your Simchat Torah will be equally wonderful!

Right after these next two festival days, we’re beginning the yearly Torah reading cycle with the first portion, Bereshit, which means “in the beginning of. . . .” and then continues with the familiar creation story. The ancient rabbis asked an interesting question about this word, which must, by virtue of its prominent placement, be significant: why does the first verse of the Torah begin with the second letter of the aleph-bet? That is, wouldn’t it make more sense to begin the Torah with the first letter, aleph ?

They answer: no, because the letter bet is connected with bracha, or “blessing,” but the letteraleph is connected with arrirah, or “cursed,” and it just wouldn’t do to begin the story of creation with a letter connected to a pessimistic and negative word like “cursed.”

Let’s be clear about something: the rabbis of the Talmud knew darn well that there are lovely and positive words that begin with aleph, and words describing unpleasant things that begin with bet. They could have picked other words to explain bereshit other than bracha– blessing- but they wanted to make a fundamental point: even though the world can feel like a cursed place, full of evil and suffering, the job of cultivating a religious perspective is to find the blessing in our worldly circumstances. Of course the world has suffering- but we believe that the possibility of goodness outweighs it. That’s what it means to have faith- not to believe certain propositions despite all evidence but to orient ourselves towards gratitude and wonder.

Not only that, but let’s remember: much suffering is the result of human choices which are not inherent in creation. We have the capacity, albeit underutilized, to make this world better for all life. That’s why the rabbis want us to associate the first word of the Torah with bracha– blessing- because it’s a fundamental aspect of Judaism not only to remember our blessings, but to work towards a world of shared blessing. The bet of bereshit means “blessing” only when we choose to see it and share it.

Moadim l’simcha (happy holidays) and Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

*(Bereshit/ Genesis 1:1)

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