Bereshit: To start with….

It’s been an odd holiday season, I think. For a time that is supposed to be quite self-reflective, focusing on ourselves, our lives, our intentions for the coming year, our actions from the past year, a lot of us have been focused on what’s outside of us. We’ve been listening to the news, emailing and calling our representatives, connecting with others who understand our feelings and concerns, even reaching out to others who don’t agree with us, to better understand why they think as they do.

It’s in this context that we begin again with Bereshit, Genesis 1:1….When God began to create the heavens and the earth….

Did you notice that the Torah begins with something that God does, not who God is? One could ask what God was doing before this moment, but it is the essence of Torah that the first encounter with the Divine One, God’s “introduction” to us, is not about how great God is, but rather, what God does.

The first word gives us a time context (B’reshit), the second word gives us action (bara…created), a verb. I often describe Judaism to my classes as a verb – Jewish life is less about what you believe in, and more about how you act. Verbs are how Jews live – we do, bless, separate, define, distinguish, offer up, etc. We do. And Bereshit tells us why. Even God isn’t defined by who, but rather what God does, right from the start.

God creates. The commentators disagree as to whether or not God creates out of nothing, or out of something. After all, the text says there was already light (the sun wasn’t created until the fourth day, so what light shone before that?) that there was chaos on earth (which was already there, apparently) and it was unformed and void. Perhaps God didn’t create so much as organize. Perhaps the act of creation is really the act of responding to what is already there, and making it workable, usable, do-able, useful.

We talk about creativity, admiring it in others. But those who create music, art, dance, theater, literature…they’re really taking what is already there in the form of colors, words, movement, notes, and bring those materials into an order that is new. The genius of the artist is what they do with the materials at hand.

I’ve just closed my most recent show, Man of La Mancha. I didn’t really get that show before I was immersed in it. Quixote knows he may not succeed, but he knows he has to try. He has to bring gallantry and decency into his life and deeds, and bring others along if he can. He can’t let the darkness win, no matter what it costs. He strives though it’s impossible, and by doing so, he brings hope and vision to others who couldn’t see it before.

God took the materials at hand and made them better. We should do no less, looking around at the world we have, and make it better. Always strive to make it better, though we each are just one person. The whole universe was created for one person. Always DO, instead of sitting back and letting someone else do it. Yes, Shabbat may be our break from the DOING, but God modeled that behavior, too. Our world is tohu v’vohu, it’s chaotic. It’s our job now to right what’s wrong.


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