Bereishit – In the Beginning. What an enigmatic way to start off the Bible! A Hebrew grammarian can tell you that this very first word of the entire Torah is fraught with complexity: Does it really say “In the beginning,” or is it perhaps “In a beginning,” or “In the beginning of…”, or possibly even, “When God began creating.” And even if you’re not so familiar with grammar rules, you might still have a whole host of questions right off the bat. What does it mean that this was the beginning? What came before? What was God doing just prior to all this Creation-business? The Torah begins… and so do our questions and our challenges.
But maybe that’s the point. Maybe our frustrations with the very first word of our Bible are meant to remind us that life is about engagement. We are not supposed to sit back and let experiences wash over us, we have to get involved! Take charge! What do YOU want out of life, and when do you plan on starting to go after it? Our ancient sage, Hillel, reminds us simply, “If not now, when?” How long should the Torah have to wait before it can expect us to react and become an active player in the drama of human history? Apparently not very long at all.
Sure enough, once the earth has been created, and then filled with dry land, plants, and animals, God decides to create human beings. Once again, we come across an enigmatic phrase, as God states, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Who is God talking to? Is it the royal “We”? Or perhaps God is surrounded by a Divine Entourage? One interesting commentary I recently came across suggested something different. Abraham J. Twerski, a Chasidic Rabbi and a psychiatrist who deals with substance abuse, suggested that God is actually speaking to the very people God is about to create. According to Twerski, it is as if God is saying, “I will give you the potential, and you must develop it.”
There is no time to rest! God hasn’t even created humans, and already there are expectations and good ol’ fashioned Jewish guilt. God started the Creation process, but we need to pick up where God left off. We need to set about improving our own lives, the lives of those around us, and indeed the state of the entire planet. God says to us, “Are you ready to be made in My image? Can you handle this responsibility?” What should we respond?
The High Holidays are behind us, and we have supposedly begun the new year on a higher note, and with loftier ideals and resolutions. There’s no downtime now. We don’t get to rest on our laurels, and pat ourselves on the back for surviving another year of holidays. The rest of the year – and the rest of our lives – begins now. Are we ready for it? A new Genesis is upon us, and whether we make it A beginning, or THE beginning is up to each one of us. Either way, it is starting right… now!