Living more fully “in the image of God” - Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins
People often misread the powerful opening stories of the Torah found in Parashah Bereshit as science and history, and thus dismiss them for their naiveté, inaccuracies and misconceptions. No, the universe was not created in seven days, no, we do not descend from a human named Adam out of whose rib woman was made, no, there is no address on earth for the “Garden of Eden.” Nevertheless, these stories present some of the deepest truths about the human condition and core religious principles of Judaism – among them, there is one God, the Creator of all that exists; in the process of evolution, earthlings have more responsibility than all other creatures on earth as stewards of the planet; and time can be made sacred through the application of human intelligence.
The first story of the Torah teaches us how we as Jews structure time. Counter-intuitively, the day begins with sunset and twilight, not sunrise. This way of looking at a day is unique – we begin it by having a relaxing meal, then head to sleep, so that by the time we awaken, we are nearly done with the day – and no matter what happens in the daylight, we can look forward to a new day of dining and sleeping just hours away. The other natural unit of time is the month, based on the cycle of the moon, with our major festivals being connected to its waxing and waning. But the pinnacle of the first story is the teaching of Shabbat, creative genius at its best. We must exercise our intelligence to count seven days – and then we do something special with that seventh day. We declare that it is a day to stop, to rest, to enjoy and re-soul. Experiencing 25 hours to be, as Heschel called it, “in an island of time”, allows us to be in touch with our core being. Proclaiming this time as sacred for all humans and animals prevents any of us from becoming “beasts of burden” and allows us at least one day in seven to experience the dignity of freedom. Indeed, Shabbat is one of the most radical concepts of Torah, and is found in its opening teaching.
The second story of creation presents the mythic lives of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the oldest existential narrative of which I am aware. Adam (earthling) is created out of adamah (earth). Yet this human prototype has also been made in the divine image, able to have an awareness of self and being unlike any other animals. The ultimate paradox is that the human can live unevolved in the “Garden of Eden”, or “eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil”. It is precisely our moral consciousness and our ability to choose that separates us from other animals and leads us into a state of exile. This story is vast and rich, and can be forever explored for its meaning, especially its teachings about our distancing from other animals and our environment at the same time we have the highest duty of care for all life.
Human beings are story tellers and meaning makers, and we form communities through those shared stories and meanings. As we begin our Torah story anew, let us acknowledge that while the story of Bereshit may not contain much scientific or historical truth, it is rich with truth about the human condition and living a meaningful life; its study launches us into our new year with greater awareness of how to live more fully “in the image of God.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025
p: 02 9389 6444
Shabbat, January 30, 2021
17th of Sh'vat, 5781
Friday, January 29 2021 7:44PM
Motzei Shabbat 8:20PM
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