Every year, at the conclusion of the holiday season, we begin reading, as we do this week, the Torah anew. Its opening verse is perhaps the most famous line ever stated: In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth.
Why do we read the same chapter year after year? Once we learned that the universe was created by G-d, why do we need to be reminded of this fact every year anew?
The answer is both simple and profound.
One of our greatest enemies is monotony. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do we humans. Many of our problems originate from the wearing effects of boredom and routine. At some point, repeating the same activity again and again dulls our spirits, and we become desperate for something, anything, that will relieve our tedium and fill the hungry vacuum, whether it be healthy or not. We need that rush of excitement, that chase, that high that will make us feel alive again.
The question that begs, however, is very fundamental: Why should our lives be monotonous in the first place? Every thing in existence is in a perpetual state of change and movement. We begin our lives in a state of constant enchantment. Observe a young child crawling about exploring everything he or she encounters. The child’s unwavering curiosity, his constant movement, never resting in one place, excited and stimulated by the simplest things, is life playing itself out in its most natural form: Life as raw energy.
One of the fascinating discoveries we all make as children is when we look into a microscope for the first time and see on a glass slide the microorganisms slithering about in a seemingly inanimate drop of pond water.
The fascination is due to the discovery of vibrancy in a place that seems devoid of any life. The same is true when we first learn of the vast ecosystem of life teeming beneath the otherwise benign water cover of the ocean surface. Or the unfathomable multitudes of stars, solar systems, black holes and dark matter in outer space. Or the 75 trillion vibrating cells within the human body. Or the complexity and symmetry of nature, connecting every organism, every mineral, plant and animal. Or the layers upon layers of microscopic particles shaping every detail of existence. Or the elegant DNA of the human genome.
Life is dynamic. Like electricity, every part of life is filled with bursts of energy. No two moments are alike, everything alive is always in constant flux – constantly moving and changing.
So when did we lose our sense of adventure, our sense of enchantment at the mysteries brimming beneath and within every fiber of existence? When did our curiosity and enthusiasm stop or slow down? When did monotony set in?
When we began getting locked into the surface level of our lives, forgetting about the forces within that shape every aspect of our lives, our existence and our universe. The cruel reality of material life is that once we get consumed with the crass materialism of our lives, a hard crust develops – which gets tougher with each passing day – concealing the vibrant life within. At some point our outer lives take complete control, and we are left with no inkling or hope for rejuvenation.
Each year, therefore, as we are about to reenter the hard armor of the routines of our lives, we read Bereishis – to reawaken within our spirits the sheer wonder and awe of everything around us, as if we are looking at life around us for the very first time.
The Torah is not merely telling us about the story of creation that happened eons ago, but about the story of creation that is happening here and now – the constant renewal of our lives and of the entire universe. Yes, you may have looked at heaven and earth yesterday or yesteryear, but now – this very moment – heaven and earth and everything in between, is being renewed again. Though we may not see it on the surface – the rising morning sun seems to be the same sun that rose yesterday – yet when we pause and give a moment’s thought, we realize that all of nature is dynamic, even the things that repeat themselves. Beneath the surface new particles of light and energy are perpetually being discharged from the source of all energy.
Among the many far reaching implications of this unique attitude is the hope that it offers us: Life is not a monotonous continuum that just keeps “rolling along.” At the surface level it may appear that there is no movement, but brewing beneath the surface is vitality that is being renewed each moment from its source. At any given moment we can access this inner energy and renew our lives. We are not just like a dead pool of water cut off from its source; we have the power to access this dynamic life force within.
Imagine waking up each morning feeling that everything is new and fresh. That we are not victims of our past patterns and routines. That we are not creatures of habit, or better stated, that we can transcend our habits.
It’s not very difficult to do if you set your mind to it. Science can help. Meditate on the dancing subatomic particles that animate everything in existence. Think of the pulsating energies that keep you alive every moment – your heartbeat, your breath, pumping blood unceasingly through your arteries and veins.
Go stand one evening at an ocean side and observe the relentless waves crashing on the beach, again and again.
Yes friends, all of life is about constant movement. Death is when this movement comes to a halt. It is we humans who get caught up in the minutiae of surface life, in our struggle for survival, in petty battles and concerns, we get ourselves trapped in old habits and patterns – and every time we do, a small part of us dies inside. But we can choose life – we can determine to plug in to the source of life’s energy, and when we do we are renewed.
I give you today two paths, the Torah tells us, the path of life and the path of death. Choose life! You have the choice. You can choose the dreary, monotonous path of old routines, draining your energy with each passing day, as well as the energy of everyone you come in contact with, slowly killing your spirit, as you edge closer to a living death. Or you can choose to plug in to the energy within, rejuvenating you each day with new vitality, fanning the flames of life into a formidable force that illuminates and warms everything in its path.
We have a choice: We either succumb and resign ourselves to the mortal forces of nature that cause us to age and erode; or we tap into the inner vivacity of the marrow that flows like a stream through the cosmic arteries of existence.
This is the compounding challenge facing us at all times. When things are “going well,” when life seems to be regular, we can convince ourselves that we do not need to access the perpetual renewal of “Bereishis boro Elokim – In the beginning G-d created.” On the contrary, one can even argue that there is comfort in the “boring” consistency of life. “Bereishis” reminds us and gives us the power to create a new beginning. We dance on Simchat Torah with unbridled joy — joy in recognition of our ability to connect to new sources of energy — and then we use these energies to recreate the world in which we live.
Here are some practical suggestions how to implement this in our lives:
1) Every morning, first thing upon awakening, while still lying in bed, say the prayer: Modeh Ani Lefonecho Melech Chai v’Kayom She’he’chozarti Bi Neshmosi b’Chemlo Rabbo Emunosecho. I acknowledge You for returning my soul to me.
Take a moment to concentrate and think about these words and what they mean to you. You have a soul that has been renewed (“bereishis”) this morning. Your soul has a mission whose contract has been renewed. This is your personal mission statement – the reason you are here on earth.
Begin your day with focusing on the force of life that renews you on a constant basis. And this focal point should direct all your activities throughout the day: Are they fulfilling your soul’s mission? Your soul’s vitality then becomes a hub that connects all the fragmented spokes of your life.
2) Before you go to sleep say this prayer: B’yodcho Afkid Ruchi Podeso Oisee A-donoi E-l Emes. I entrust my spirit into Your hand. You will redeem me, Lord, G-d of truth.
Don’t fall asleep with the TV on or with a newspaper on your nose. Read something spiritual; pray; say the above prayer; and allow yourself to fall asleep with nourishment of your soul. Your sleep will then be peaceful and healing. And you will awaken with a fresh soul, ready to take on the day.
3) As we begin reading the Torah anew with Bereishis, why not commit to begin reading the weekly Torah portion every week of the year. Besides becoming familiar with the Torah, you will find now, more than ever, the amazing relevance of the Torah to our times. The ongoing Torah portions – in their blunt depiction of the battle of good and evil, the story of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Esau and the entire subsequent events – all parallel in a most uncanny fashion the unfolding drama of our times, and it helps us make some sense of what is going on. Above all, it gives us direction on how to proceed into an otherwise uncertain future.
May this be a year of true renewal.