Bereshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

14 Jan
January 14, 2015

“In the beginning…” These words have captured the imagination of countless generations since the beginning of time. Imagine in ancient times as the family sat around a fire at night marveling at the miracle of creation and wondering at the remarkable vision they had of the millions of stars in the heavens and the multitude of life here on earth. How could their imaginations help but be stimulated by all they saw, and how could they possibly not ponder the unanswerable questions of where it all came from and what is the ultimate source of creation?

Every civilization has its own creation myths. Every civilization tries in its own unique way to answer the unknowable, to solve the mystical riddle of creation. For the Jewish people, creation has always been seen as an act of God’s love for humanity and all living things. The story of creation that we read this week in the Torah, is a testimony to the fundamental ethical values that underlie all of Jewish civilization. In fact, it is within this week’s Torah portion that we find the single most important idea in the entire Torah.

I suppose if you asked ten rabbis to tell you which single sentence in the Torah is the most important of all, you would get at least ten different answers. Yet I have always felt that it is within the story of creation itself, long before the Torah turns its attention to the story of Abraham and Sarah and the saga of the Jewish people that we can find this singular idea. It sets us apart from other peoples of the earth and it lays the foundation for all the ethics, morality, laws and Mitzvot that are to follow for the entire rest of the Torah.

This idea that I believe is the most important in all the Torah is found in Chapter one of Genesis, verse 27, where it is written, “And God created the human being in the Divine image, in the image of God He created him; male and female God created them.”

So simple an idea that every one knows it by heart. And yet it is because of this idea that the Jewish people have understood that all human beings are fundamentally created equal in the sight of God. If all human beings, male and female are created in the Divine image, then every single one of us has inherent worth, inherent value, inherent importance simply by the gift of life itself.

The Jewish notion of “self esteem” then, grows out of this spiritual idea of the value of every human being as a reflection of God’s image. In this case the radical idea expressed in the passage is as potent for what it does not say as for what it does. It does not say “except…”. It does not say “except blacks,” or “except homosexuals,” or “except women,” or except Arabs.” It says all human beings were created in the image of God.

So imagine what the world would be like if every single person on the planet read this passage and accepted it as true. If every one of us saw the image of God every time we looked at another human being, it would be impossible to reduce them to an epithet, or to see them as less than human or even less than you or I. And ultimately as soon as we can no longer reduce the humanity out of another person, but rather see God within them, it becomes impossible to kill and murder and destroy another human life.

That is the real power of this idea and why it is the most important idea in the entire Torah. Because it speaks to everyone. Because it reminds us especially in the heat of our anger and frustrations and pain and sorrow at the violence and inhumanity that still surrounds us and Israel each day, that our Torah from its very first chapter commands us to see even our enemies as reflections of God. And if we can still do that, then maybe peace does ultimately have a chance after all.

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