Life, Death… and Life Again
We begin the annual Torah reading cycle once again this Shabbat. Bereshit – In the Beginning. As with all beginnings, it starts off with so much promise, potential and possibilities. But we are quite familiar with the story and all those hopes are quickly dashed.
Adam and Eve do not obey God’s command and are thrust out of Paradise. The next generation is not much better as Cain is excessively jealous of his brother and ends up murdering him. Things continue to spiral downward and by the time we get to the end of the parsha, over the course of ten generations, we hear that God is so bothered by the bad behavior of Man that He is ready to scrap this whole Creation project and start over with just Noah and his family.
“And God saw the evil of Man was great upon the earth and that the notions and thoughts of his heart were immoral all the time. And God regretted that he even made Man on the earth and this pained Him (God) in His heart. So God declared, ‘I will wipe out Mankind that I created from the land – Man, animals, creeping thing and even birds that fly in the sky – because I regret that I made them.’ However Noah found favour in the eyes of God.”
And so begins a pattern that seems to repeat itself over and over again. A pattern of life, potential and hope only to be followed by death, destruction and desolation.
That would be depressing if not for the fact that the there are happier times ahead and things look up. However Noah found favour in the eyes of God. As long as there is one righteous individual, Life and all its goodness can come back. Death and destruction do not last. Life returns.
I have previously written about the centrality of the idea of Resurrection of the Dead to Judaism. How it appears early in the most important prayer of the day – the Shemoneh Esrei or Amida. It is mentioned no less than six times:
You are eternally mighty, Lord. You give life to the dead and have great power to save. He sustains the living with loving-kindness and with great compassion revives the dead. He supports the fallen, heals the sick, sets captives free, and keeps His faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, Master of might, and to whom can You be compared, O King who brings death and gives life, and makes salvation grow? Faithful are You to revive the dead. Blessed are You, Lord, who revives the dead.
Life, Death… and Life again. That’s the cycle.
This had been percolating in my mind on Simchat Torah on Wednesday when a young man approached me during the service. He was bothered at what he saw on Simchat Torah. For those who might not be so familiar, the holiday can get a bit rowdy to say the least. The drinks flow and it is not unusual to see the booze bottles right up there alongside the Torah on the Bimah as each celebrates getting an aliyah with a shot of Vodka or Scotch. The kids are running amok on their sugar highs, the BBQ is churning out burgers, hotdogs, chicken and meat and the shul is chaos. People are shmuzzing away and regular “shushing” doesn’t quiet the crowd from talk.
It was in this atmosphere that this young man asked me and if I think this is what God wants. Is this how we are to celebrate our annual completion of reading and learning God’s holy work? I told him that I don’t know exactly what God thinks; I am not a prophet. But I did share with him what I was thinking earlier that morning.
I thought of the times my father told me when the Nazis came to liquidate his town of Staszow, Poland and of the last time he would ever see his parents. He said it was a bitter cold November morning in 1942. And as they waited together in the town square about to move out, he told his father to take his mother by the hand. Whereupon his father, who was holding his talis and tefillin, raised them up over his head toward heaven and said, “De Aybershter – The Almighty – will take us both by the hand.”
I tried to imagine what would be going on in the mind of my grandfather as he watched his world die, crumble and disintegrate. Everything he knew was coming to an end. What must have he been feeling during those fateful final hours?
On Simchat Torah I thought of this. And I contrasted it to what I was watching in front of my eyes. Here we were, almost 79 years on but just two generations later and this man’s grandson has a little shul in a place far from Staszow, Poland. And it has hundreds of people coming to dance and eat and drink with joy in celebrating Simchat Torah. I didn’t do a count, but I know my daughters made 85 candy bags for the kids and they were all gone that night and some kids didn’t get (sorry). So it’s fair to say there were over a hundred children at Aish that night. 100 beautiful little Jewish children. 100 Beginnings. Not to mention the adults. Inside and spilling outside it was brimming and teaming with people who came to dance and celebrate being Jewish.
This man asked me, “Is this what God wants?” I told him, “Yeah, I am pretty sure this is what God wants.” Because God wants Life. He want Joy. He wants Happiness. It’s why He created the Universe. And it pains Him in His heart of hearts if it is anything but.
Bereshit – In the Beginning. Let’s begin again – in Life.
Only the beginning
of what I want to feel forever
Yes, only the beginning of what I want to feel forever
Only the beginning
Only just a start