And It Was Enough – Parshat Bereshit 5779

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Do you ever have those moments when you feel like you’re going nonstop and still not getting it all done? That definitely happens to me – those days when I wonder if I’m giving enough of myself to my job, to my family, to my husband, to me. And even if I’m able to check things off the to-do list, I feel defeated, thinking nothing is quite as great as I wanted it to be. Usually this happens when I’m approaching the deadline for several projects at once, and it’s crunch time. I get this feeling in my core that I’m being pulled in a million different directions, but I want everything to be just right. If I stop to focus on one project, everything else suffers. I know I’m only human, but it’s terrible to think I’m letting down my family or my community when I’m unable to make sure every detail is perfect or I can’t be at every event, program, or service. What if I could actually step back and say, “This is good”? Not great, not perfect, but just good enough?

This week we read Parshat Bereshit, the first portion of the Torah. We are wowed with the story of creation, the time and care God put into creating each day, each being exactly as planned. We learn about the first humans and their experience in the Garden of Eden, how they learned to build, grow, and exist together. The Torah continues with the story of Cain and Abel, the fist sibling rivalry gone awry, and the very real consequences put into place after each of these events. God is like a parent birthing new life or like a CEO organizing her staff, figuring out each day what is necessary to be done and when there is time to stop, step back, and simply take it all in.

When we talk about the story of creation, we tend to think of the seventh day as the only time God rested. But since this parshah suggests different creative acts on each day, there must have been at least a brief rest between each day. In fact, as God goes about the creation of the world, God pauses at the end of each day and says, “It was good.” On day one there was the simple separation, and then a stop until day two. On day two there’s more creation, and it was good. Day three, a little bit more. You get the idea. There is something remarkable in the fact that God was able to stop at the end of each day of creation, take in what had been done, and simply stop until it was time to add the next layer.

Sometimes we feel as if we live nonstop lives in a world that also never stops. With tiny computers in our hands all day, there is always an email to be answered, a Facebook post to check, bills to pay, and work do be done. It’s not easy to simply slow down, let alone stop. How can we possibly let go of our desire to produce more, and instead look at what we’ve produced and say it is good? Parshat Bereshit teaches us that we must. Each day, we must take note of when we’ve done enough for the day and give ourselves the permission to step back, take it all in, and celebrate our accomplishments. If God can save some of the work for tomorrow, so can we.

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Organized Chaos – Parshat Bereshit 5778

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I have an organizational system that I’m guessing many of you are familiar with. It’s often referred to as organized chaos. I have piles and piles organized throughout my workspace, and to the untrained eye they might just look like piles, but to me it makes complete sense. I have my “deal with right now” pile and my “recycle me” pile. I have a “for Duncan to deal with” pile and a “never look at again but don’t want to throw out” pile. Sometimes the items get moved from pile to pile until they end up in their permanent home (either an actual folder or the recycling bin) and my life feels organized and manageable. Every once in a while I get fed up with the size of the piles, go through them all, and whittle them down to the bare essentials. And then the process starts all over again.

Organized chaos is not a new management system. In fact, this week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, originates this concept. As the Torah begins anew we start with the very act of creation itself. We begin again with our familiar story and move quickly from the days of creation through the narrative of Adam and Eve in the beautiful Garden of Eden to the first time someone challenged God. From there we witness the first explosive sibling rivalry with Cain and Abel. The end then careens us forward in time to the line of Noah.

As the story of creation begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was Tohu Va’Vohu.” A modern translation could read this as “organized chaos.” When I read this I always picture God looking around at various piles trying to figure out what goes where. Sort of like the sorcerer in Disney’s Fantasia, I imagine God moving a wand around, organizing the heavens, the earth, the waters, the plants, and the animals and people until they are in just the right place to work together in harmony.

So often we think of God as being this perfect entity who fashions a perfectly deliberate creation with everything in the right place and placed in an orderly fashion, yet here we are reading the first few sentences of our Torah, telling us that even God has piles all around.

This notion of “organized chaos” is comforting to me. It’s a little counterintuitive to think of comfort in chaos, but life is full of chaotic moments. Whether it is my piles all around or running from activity to activity, it’s easy to feel like the world is whizzing by, However, we read Parshat Bereshit this morning and are reminded that from the chaos we create order. Just please excuse the mess.

 

Happy Days – Parshat Bereshit 5777

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Is it just me, or do you also hear the Happy Days theme song in your head when we read the story of creation? In both cases, we go through the days of the week and call them “happy” or “good.” In fact, you could substitute the words “it was good” in place of “happy days,” and you’d have a nice little Bereshit theme song:

Sunday, Monday, it was good.

Tuesday, Wednesday, it was good.

Thursday, Friday, it was good.

Saturday, what a day, I think I’ll take a nap.

At the end of each day of creation, God takes a moment to step back and take note of all that has been accomplished in anticipation of the next productive step. It makes me wonder if God would still have had the satisfaction of “good” if there hadn’t been this daily check-in. Perhaps the “good” isn’t a direct response to the creation at all, but actually God taking a moment to simply stop at the end of the day. We focus on Shabbat as God’s rest after creation, but the division between the days seems to indicate there was also a “rest” after each day.

This is the lesson of creation. Setting aside a moment at the end of the day to look at what we have accomplished and what is good – in our professional and personal lives – means that we are actively checking in with ourselves and those around us. Furthermore, setting aside an entire day (and believe me, as someone who “works” on Shabbat, I know how hard this is to do) means having the ability to reconnect with one another and refresh for the next week.

The happiness conveyed in the theme song is a helpful reminder to stop and take these moments of appreciation. Every week when Duncan and I look at our calendars and plan our schedules, it reinforces how frenetic and fast-paced our lives seem to be. In order to get any family time or down time, we have to schedule it in. This section of text in parshat Bereshit details the creation of the world day by day, but also asks us to reflect on our own “happy days.” As we enter another year and another cycle of Torah, let us work to make every day a day that brings happiness, connection, and our own creation.

Why I Believe in God – Parshat Bereshit 5776

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During rabbinical school I spent one summer doing a unit of clinical pastoral education at a hospital in Michigan.  My reasoning for spending that time in a hospital setting was twofold. First, I needed to get over some of my fear of the hospital environment and learn how to bring the most comfort to the most vulnerable.  Second, I have long had a fascination with medicine, and this intensive program put me on overnight on-calls, trauma teams, and in the ICU standing right with the medical professionals.  This was a lifechanging experience for me on so many levels, but most notably with my belief in God.  

I was honored to be invited to sit in on an autopsy as the team worked to identify the cause of death.  I stood in the room with my colleague and watched as the professionals went to work.  To my amazement, their tools included a saw. Our bones are so hard and strong, they need the force of a heavy saw to cut open, and yet this woman died from bleeding caused by the tiniest pinhole tear.  In that instant I became truly aware of the complexities of the human body, the intricacies with which we are created.  In that moment I knew God existed.  In a sense, for me this was the beginning.

This week we read parshat Bereshit, the first portion of the Torah.  We begin again with our familiar story and move quickly from the days of creation through the narrative of Adam and Eve in the beautiful Garden of Eden to the first time someone challenged God.  From there we experience the narrative of Cain and Abel and the first explosive sibling rivalry.  The entire section of texts ends by careening us forward in time to the line of Noah.  

But we begin with the beginning.  “When God began to create heaven and earth, the earth being unformed and void with darkness over the surface of the deep…” The Torah begins with this sentence, acknowledging the beginning of all beginnings.  Rabbi Akiva, a Talmudic sage, taught, “Just as the existence of a house testifies to the builder and the existence of a garment testifies to the weaver, so the existence of the world testifies to God who fashioned it.”  

On the surface, Rabbi Akiva’s proof of God rests in the mere existence of the world, but what he is implying is that the divinity of the architecture is in the complexity of it. The beginning of my belief in God was that moment in the hospital.  I believe in God because I saw firsthand what unique systems and works of art our bodies are, and they are beyond anything my mind can consider creating. In that small, sterile basement room, I met God, and it was a moment that opened my eyes to a miracle which I cannot understand outside the realm of faith.

It’s not my job to persuade you to believe in God. As far as explanations go, you might take an approach that is purely divine, one that is purely scientific, or one that falls somewhere in between. Nevertheless, starting our year and our Torah cycle anew does compel us to see the world in a new light. However the story of creation resonates with you, in this new light may we find moments of belief, moments of clarity, and perhaps moments that acknowledge the presence of God in some way.