Over the last few weeks, I have been writing letters reflecting the optimism that can be gleaned from our tradition. From l’chayims to simchateinu, I have written about the words and expressions and values of our tradition that create great joy and hopefulness. I believe that creating hope is a primary responsibility of religion. The American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once wrote that religion has two purposes. One is to bring comfort to those who are in need. On the other hand, he asserted, religion serves a purpose when it challenges those who are comfortable to become uncomfortable. When you have it good, look around and realize that there are so many in need and that you can do something about it.
This week we begin reading the Torah all over again. And this is remarkable because through reading and study we keep this ancient text alive. It is, after all, Eitz Chayim Hi…a Tree of Life.
And we will read the story of creation. Imbedded in this remarkable story are many messages and values. One is that creation is good. “And God saw all He created and it was very good” we read in relation to the sixth day.
But the text doesn’t stand alone in our tradition. We know that through the years, commentaries and interpretations have enriched our understanding. And with the passage of time, changes in the natural world and the evolution of human history, conditions in this world have changed. The rabbis saw that after God finished the works of creation, he realized that the world was now being placed into the hands of human beings. It would be cared for by the human race.
The rabbis in the Midrash say that God showed Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”
We are in a desperate situation in our world. Many things, including man’s cruelty and savagery, threaten life. And the natural world faces devastation. We can be like the fool who covers his eyes and pretends all is well, or we can do something meaningful to create change. Last week I was in Miami Beach and experienced “sunny day flooding” and I wonder what will it take for us to wake up and respond in a serious way? I just learned that we are the only advanced nation in the world with some in leadership that deny scientific evidence. That’s problematic.
As we approach Shabbat Bereishit, let’s make a commitment to engage politically in ways that will support the gifts of God’s creation. Let your voice be heard.
See you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt
B’nai Torah Israel Experiences
Information Sessions for Rabbi Englander’s Family and First-Timers Israel Trip!
Come learn about our Family and First-Timers congregational Israel trip taking place June 15-25 with Rabbi Englander. Informational meetings will be held on Sunday, October 11 and Sunday, October 18 at 11:30 am in the Nathan Library. If you can’t make an informational meeting but would like to learn more, contact Rabbi Englander at email@example.com.
Join Rabbi David Steinhardt for a Week of Study in Israel
Join Rabbi David Steinhardt in Jerusalem for a week of study and conversation at the Shalom Hartman Institute to encounter important ideas with exciting thinkers and scholars. June 2016 – Specific dates and themes to follow.