Friday, October 16, 2009

Endings - Parshat Bereishit, 5770

Parashat Bereishit 5770
28 Tishrei,
October, 16, 2009

“In the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and of the earth, and the earth was complete chaos.”*
These are the first words of the Torah, beginning creation and the story of the universe’s first week of existence. Each new day brings its own new creations, sometimes with explicit blessings (fish get specifically blessed on Tuesday), always concluding with the phrase,
ויהי ערב, ויהי בקר, יום...
“vayehi erev, vayehi boker, yom….“ And there was evening, and there was morning, the X day.

Except for one.

What makes Shabbat so compelling, to me at least, is not only that the last act of creation is to cease from creating, but that it seems that this ceasing is actually creation’s pinnacle, the apex of the whole story. Lekha Dodi**, which gets sung on Friday night and is a kind of Shabbat anthem, describes it as
סוף מעשה, במחשבה תחילה
“sof maaseh, bemahshava tehila.” Last in creation, first in intention.

The profound truth of this, that an idea’s central revelation is rarely its first expression, is hard for those of us of an often impatient generation to remember. Important things take time to reach fruition.

The great American, progressive philosopher of education, John Dewey (whose ideas still provoke educational revolution, sixty years after he died) wrote,
“The effect of an experience is not borne on its face...Just as no man lives and dies to himself, so no experience lives and dies to itself. Wholly independent of desire or intent, every experience lives on in further experiences.”

So a lesson from the story of Creation, is that every new thing has a future, that experiences do not stand alone, but inevitably develop in their own arc, at their own time. And I bless all of us with patience, and not a little measure of wonder, for where the arc of our own experiences leads.

A Peaceful and Blessed Shabbat,
Rabbi Scott Perlo

* This translation of the first line of Bereishit - Genesis - is different from what most people know but more accurate - the Hebrew word is an adjective, not a noun. This makes sense - God creates for seven days - this is only the beginning of it.
** Lekha Dodi is a mystical poem written in the 15th century by a Shlomo Alkabetz, a gifted if somewhat exhibitionisitic religious poet (the first letter of every stanza spells out his name). Lekha Dodi is extremely mystical, relying on references from Torah and especially Kabbalah in almost every line - very rich stuff. “Last in creation, first in intention” is a quote from an anonymous 14th century mystical book Marekhot haElohut, “Systems of God-ness.”


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