Just following Simchat Torah, we begin the cycle of Torah reading again, with the stories from Bereshit that set the themes for the rest of the book, and in a sense, for Judaism. These stories should be understood metaphorically, not literally, holding deep truth although not scientific or historic. Each of these could lead to a lifetime of study and learning.
The first story is that God is the Creator of all and that one of the most important ways we experience God is through the sanctity of time. Judaism does not insist that we reject the notion of evolution or science when we speak of God the Creator. Rather, these very opening verses of the first seven days serve as a construct, explaining that behind all matter is a sense of mystery and purpose. Moreover, on this planet, the most evolved creature is the human, who is able to perceive time and through dedicating time for rest and reflection, develop a spiritual self. Shabbat, which means “stop”, is the day we as Jews have designed to stop from our production and consumption, in order to reconnect with our soul. It is a time all more crucial for each of us overwhelmed with the 24/7 onslaught of information and activity.
The second story focuses on the creation of the singular human. As the rabbis teach, this story becomes one whose intent is to teach principles of equity and egalitarianism. According to a more accurate reading of the Hebrew, the woman is taken not from the rib but from the side of human (parallel to the Greek story of the creation of two humans, one male and one female, from a singular androgynous being). The rabbis say this teaches that no human being can say that “my blood is redder than yours” and that “whoever saves a single life saves the entire universe.” The sanctity and primacy of life is taught from this story, let alone egalitarianism (alas, not accentuated by the tradition) and obligations for justice.
Finally, the story shifts to God issuing a simple command to the human, not to eat of the “fruit of the tree of knowledge.” This most paradoxical story creates a tension with which we continue to live. On one hand exists free will and the human choice of good and evil; on the other is “paradise”, where as the Talking Heads say in their song “Heaven”, “nothing ever really happens.” To be in the world of action, to move into history, means leaving behind innocence. With choice comes pain and consequence. The Torah unfolds as the story of the celebration of Creation, the responsibility of free will, and the expectation of repair and right action. The words of the festivals just completed should echo in our ears as we ree-ncounter the stories of Torah yet another year. May we understand them yet more deeply and apply their truths ever more meaningfully.