And so we begin again! A new year, a new encounter with Torah as we gather to begin again with Genesis. A wonderful and challenging portion, from the creation stories to the moral challenge of Cain’s getting away with the mirder of his brother. But let’s focus on the beginning and the Torah’s acccount of what may be one of, if not THE great creations of humanity: time. There may be no greater message for our generation than this passage, for if one thing is true for us–made even more profound with the pandemic– it is that we are accutely now aware of time.
At Rosh Hoshonnah services at a congregation I am working with we looked at this issue. I flashed on the Fantasticks, that wonderful off-Broadway show and the song “Try to Remember”. It just seemed to grab hold of me this year. SO many of us have had the “time” to refect on the past and really wonder about the future. We are so aware of time’s passing and cannot help but consider how much time we must still be under Covid’s control, or how much time we have left, knowing that we cannot control either. This reality has caused, and is causing, a rather dramatic increase in anxiety among our and other generations. This is a reality that we must deal with. Part of that reality is the challenge of not only looking backwards, but looking forward in to our future. After all, as many colleagues have taught during the Holidays, we now begin to write a new personal scroll. With Genesis 1 we begin again, our future is in many ways, up to us.
Where do we fit in time? What does our life mean? Here is a thought from a book that many of us read a few years ago. In Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” our hero Reuven is discussing this issue with his father. His father gives this advice, advice that I offer to all of us as we begin again: “Human beings do not live forever..we live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So we may be asked what value is there to a human life? There is so much pain in the world. What does is mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? I learned a long time ago, that the blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But, the eye that blinks, that is something. The span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so that its quality is immeasurable, though its quantity may be insignificant.” (p.217)
The challenge of Genesis and the Creation stories may be this, that we are charged and challenged to bring meaning and purpose to our lives, and in doing so, the world. We are here for that “blink of an eye”, Torah gives us guidance on how to make sure our lives reflect the portion’s ki tov, the call to see that life and our choices are good. It may be harder to asnwer that call is isolation, as so many of us are. Yet, there are still ways and means to connect and impact other people, to find and bring connection and meaning to other and each of us. Try to remember those moments, those people that brought each of us a sense of joy and connection. Our new life scroll is blank. What and how we write is, as always, up to us. The time is now.
Rabbi Richard F Address