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Parashat Bereshit

October 13, 2023
28 Tishrei 5784
Genesis 1:1 - 6:8


Dear Friends,

Here we are at the beginning again. Tomorrow Ben will celebrate his bar mitzvah and we will welcome him into the Jewish community as an adult with the reading of Bereshit -- "in the beginning".

There are two creation stories in our tradition: the tale of Adam, Eve, a serpent, and some fruit and the six days of creation culminating with the creation of Shabbat (rest).

Prior to the first day of creation, we are taught about the tohu vavohu – the confusion and the chaos that existed before the first day when light came into being. The problem with the light that was created on the first day, even though it was considered good, was that there was no source for that light. The sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day. So what was the light of that first day? It was awareness or consciousness. Out of the confusion that previously existed came awareness. At least, this is what the mystics teach us.

This week was certainly a week of chaos, uncertainty, grief, and profound loss. For many of us, it was like a piece of ourselves had been ripped out of us, with anger flowing in many directions, grief for the ones lost, the sense of more loss ahead, and a feeling that there are no good outcomes possible, leading to some anger at current leaders. The depth of that level of despair and anger is a very dangerous place to visit for very long, for it has the capacity to lead us into the darkest of places.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of Clal (National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) framed this quote of Abraham Lincoln this week. “We invite you, as you march, donate, and pray, to follow the lead of President Lincoln who, when asked at the height of the Civil War if 'God was on our (the Union’s) side,' responded, 'Sir, what concerns me is not whether or not God is on our side, but whether or not we are on God’s side.' Yes, we must fight the good fight, as Lincoln did, which includes the willingness to continue asking hard questions of ourselves and our most deeply held convictions, even as we do so."

I believe what Rabbi Hirschfield was asking of us, was to be awake, to be aware, and to be conscious. This moment asks us to be our best selves even as our hearts are torn asunder and yes, we are traumatized.

We ask our friends to understand our pain, our anger, our confusion, and our fear even as we do not fully comprehend it ourselves. The goal of terrorism is to strike such fear into our hearts that we lose all sense of self. We lose our awareness.

This past week I received a picture of my father when he was in his mid-twenties surrounded by many members of his family. Of those in the photograph he was the only member of his family to survive the war. It was ironic to receive that photo, this week of all weeks. But for me it was a reminder that out of the ashes of deep loss, he was one of the kindest most loving of people. 

We need to find a way to do more than survive this tragedy, even as each of us reacts and sees things based on their own unique set of experiences. For those of us who lived through 9/11, we are back there once more. For those who lost family members in the shoah, here we are again. For those whose families came to America because of pogroms these attacks reawaken that trauma.

First, we must hold one another as we grieve for those who were massacred, kidnapped, and wounded. Even as I write this I know it is not the perpetrators who are suffering in Gaza. As is true in most wars, it is the ordinary people who simply want to live their lives in peace who are harmed the most.

In the days ahead there will be an event calling upon people from different communities to break bread together at the Riverdale Y. All of you are invited to attend the one at the Y. Register. Sit down with people unlike yourself, hear their stories, and build bridges. Be aware, as it was on the first day of creation. This event will allow us to begin the work of healing our broken world and ourselves.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784