And so we begin again. This Shabbat, we meet creation again. The timeless repetition of the text that can transform and renew each of us. We begin that next chapter of our life’s scroll. As you know, there are so many themes in this opening portion of Torah. The creation stories, the epic challenge of God’s first question in Genesis 3 (“ayeka: where are you?) and ethical questions that arise from Cain and Abel. However, I want to point out one of my favorite verses, a word actually, that I think speaks to our generation. In Genesis 2:18 we read that “it is not good for man to be alone”. The context of this verse is the 2d creation story, and after all has been created, God realizes that while everything that has been created has been deemed “good”, the only thing that is not good is that Adam is “l’vado”, alone.
A comment in the Conservative movement’s “Etz Hayim” reminds us that this is addressed to human loneliness, “the absence of human association”. This one word, “l’vado”, is a sermon unto itself, for it really does speak to a reality that haunts us as we get older; that of being isolated and alone. It is one of our society’s greatest challenges, this deficit of human association as someone ages. We fear being alone as we age and even dying alone in some antiseptic “facility”. Study after study has confirmed that social interaction is a key to healthy aging and that the more isolated on is, or feels they are, the greater the possibility for illness, depression and death. Isolation and mental health concerns seem to go hand in hand as one ages.
This “l’vado” reality is a real challenge for our congregations as well. Increasingly we see people living alone, or confined to facilities in which some may rarely get friends or family to engage in caring visits. As the population ages, one of our questions will continue to be how we as a religious community, reach out and care for those of our community who are alone, isolated and unable to fully participate in communal life.
Finally, there is the existential aloneness that inhabits so many. This was described as a type of “existential isolation”. In his “Staring at the Sun” Irvin Yalom describes this “l’vado” as a “consequence not only of each of us having been thrown alone into existence and having to exit alone, but derives from the fact that each of us inhabits a world fully known only to ourselves” (121). Is this fear of being alone based on the fear of our ultimate state of “l’vado”, that of death? Do we know people who live isolated and in their own world?
The theme of creation that marks this first Torah portion also calls on us to create as many social connections as possible and to continue to nurture these connection, no matter what our age. This can be a time of profound personal growth and creativity, a time that is enhanced by our widening social circles, not withdrawing into old ones. In doing this, in seeking to nurture old connections and establish new ones, we can better understand that verse in 2:18, that it is not “good” for any of us to be “l’vado”.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.