With the close of the month of Tishrei we once again turn to our weekly Torah readings. The challenge of reading the text yearly and constantly finding new interpretations and meanings to an ancient text is both arduous and exhilarating. In a sense, this constant rereading of the text reminds us that moderns fail when they believe that everything that is old is worthless, that only the new has value. In ancient texts, we find universal insights that present to us classical wisdom. To quote the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes): “Ayin chadash mitachat ha’shemesh” (there is nothing new under the sun). To be wise then is to ask timeless questions.
This first parashah is called Braysheet (Genesis 1:1- 6:8). Even the name is open to interpretation. Does the Bible’s first word mean: “In the beginning of..?” or “In a beginning of…?” What comes after the “of”? That too is not clear. This text then reminds us that to be certain is to be foolish; that only G-d knows truth, we know barely an approximation of truth.
We see the brilliance of this proposition in the Hebrew text. Reading this first parashah in the original Hebrew we soon come to realize that the more we know and the more often we read the text, the less we are certain. The Hebrew text is written in such a way to be certain that we are never certain, that be alive is to live with doubt and to understand that reality is a process and not a fact.
This week’s parashah contains timeless tales. The Torah’s first parashah (Braysheet) forces us to ask the most fundamental of questions: How did we get here? For what purpose did G-d create the universe? Does free will exist? Is evil a necessary component of life?
The lessons of Genesis are invaluable for those living in this age of absolute certainties. We, who live in an age of never-ending media, have come to understand that more news does not mean better news. Often the reality is quite the opposite Today few of us know what is or is not true. Have we forgotten that the person presenting “truth” often determines the perception of that truth?
Ours is an age when political discourse has turned ugly and false certainty is ubiquitous. The book of Genesis reminds us that wisdom comes not with answers but with the framing of questions. How well do you ask questions of others and most importantly of yourself?
In these days of new beginnings, when once again we confront and intellectually struggle with our most ancient and fundamental of texts, let’s take the time to question our assumptions and realize that only G-d has all the answers.
Youtubes for the Week:
The music of Azi Schwartz.
At Carnegie Hall:
In memory of Leonard Cohen: