Bereshit: The Source of Life

I have a t-shirt that’s a real crowd pleaser.  It has a picture of these green circles with hands and feet and big smiles, standing on top of an image of planet Earth.  Above it says: “Peas on Earth”.  If only it were that simple.

Why does it make people smile?  It’s so darn corny!  That aside, on a basic level, we all could use a little bit more “peas” in our lives.  As disconnected from nature as modern society makes us, we yearn to grow closer.

Parashat Bereshit brings us back to the beginning of it all — the creation of all of existence and all of nature.  In the text of the Torah, immediately after Gd creates man and he becomes a “living being” (2:7), He plants a garden in Eden.

ויצמח ה אלקים מן האדמה כל עץ נחמד למראה וטוב למאכל ועץ הנחיים בתוך גן ועץ הדעת טוב ורע

“And from the ground the Lord Gd caused all pleasing and good-looking trees that are good to eat to grow from the ground, and the tree of life in the center of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.” (2:9)

This tree of life is the tree of knowledge of good and bad.  So life = knowledge, specifically the knowledge of good and bad.  What is “good” and what is “bad”?  These are subjective, relative things.  What’s good for me might not necessarily be good for you.  What is the ultimate “good,” the ultimate “right” and “wrong,” which of course, is not always the same as “good” and “bad,” is laid out in the rest of the Torah.

Mankind sinned from the get-go, by violating Gd’s commandment not to eat from that tree.  Just one rule, and Adam and Eve broke it!  They sinned on the sixth day of creation, the same day that they were created, the day before Shabbat, which is called מעין עולם הבא, “a taste of the world to come.”

Before eating from the tree, there was truth and false, אמת ושקר.  Ever since the sin, man has had to determine between “good” and “bad,” and to fight the יצר הרע, the evil inclination, urging him to sin and further delaying his entry to the world to come.

Before the blessings over the Torah reading on Shabbat, the congregation says “ואתם הדבקים בה אלהיכם, חיים כלכם היום’  “And you who cling to Hashem, your Gd, you live today.”

Study of Torah, that is, study of the knowledge of Gd, the source of life, is the key to living a full existence.  The tree of life is the Torah, and those who grasp it and grapple with it, are מאושר, “approved” or “praiseworthy” as we say after the Torah is returned to the ark:
עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה, ותמכיה מאושר
“It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and its supporters are praiseworthy” (Tehillim/Proverbs, 3:18)

In his prophecy of the world to come, Isaiah says:
“כי–כימי העץ ימי עמי ומעשה ידיהם יבלו בחירי”
“For the days of My people shall be as long as the days of a tree.  My chosen ones shall outlive the work of their hands.” (65:22)

The study of Torah, and all of its intricacies of the finer points of what is “good” and “bad” in the eyes of Gd, the only true objective definition we can have for such terms, brings us closer to the source of life.

What “living” really means is acquiring knowledge and the understanding of Gd in all his ways, in the sciences, in the beauty and wonder of the nature surrounding us, and recognizing the divine hand guiding it all — all that came before us and that will come after us and the “work of (our) hands”.

The environmental movement, the return of Jews to the Land of Israel and the concern for protecting this holy land and the entire planet seems to come from an intrinsic appreciation of the gifts Gd has blessed us with.

ויקח אלקים את-האדם וינחהו בגן-עדן לעבדה ולשמרה
“The Lord Gd took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and tend to it.” (Bereshit/Genesis 2:15)

May we merit to develop a deeper understanding of all His ways and create “Peas on Earth”.


1 Response to “Bereshit: The Source of Life”

  1. 1 Ways We Grow « Aliyah L'Torah Trackback on November 9, 2009 at 8:26 pm

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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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