Shaarei Shamayim

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BEREYSHIT 5774

BEREYSHIT 5774

Is this good world or a bad world? You can make a good argument either way. The Jewish view is that it’s a great world! After each day of creation, what does Gd say: ki tov, “It is good.” And when creation is finished at the end of the 6th day, Gd says: v’hiney tov m’od, “It’s very good!” The totality of the world, once it achieves completeness, is not just good; it’s wonderful, it’s very good!

So what is there in creation that is not good? Rabbi David Wolpe asks: “What is the 1st thing that Gd decides is not good?” Lo tov heyot Adam l’vado, “It is not good for a person to be alone.” Gd’s 1st comment on human nature is how bad it is to be alone. And the 1st thing that Gd condemns in creation is loneliness. And we see that must be the case because shortly after the creation of the individual the Torah move on to families…for the Torah is a family book—especially in Genesis—even before the creation of the Jewish people. 

What do we read about this morning? As soon as creation is completed we read about a marriage—Adam and Eve—and after that we read about children and genealogy:  this one begat that one begat that one, which is another way of saying, “Here’s the family.” And that’s because Lo tov heyot Adam l’vado, you shouldn’t be alone.

Now there are traditions and religions that preach a certain kind of solitude. But for Judaism—as modern psychology will affirm—relationships are crucial for a healthy and productive life. In fact the rabbis ask an interesting question: “Why was Adam lonely?” After all, he could talk to Gd and the angels. Their answer is fascinating. They say that the reason Adam was still lonely in the presence of the angels is because the angels didn’t need anything from Adam, and you’re lonely if someone doesn’t need anything from you. You have to be able to give in order to feel a powerful connection and someone who doesn’t need you can’t take away your loneliness. 

What’s the classical Jewish toast? L’chayim! What does l’chayim mean? That’s right, “To life!” But literally, the word chayim is plural. L’chayim literally means, “to lives.” So when you drink L’chayim, it’s a wish for a shared life with others so we won’t be lonely. 

Now that phrase, Lo tov heyot Adam l’vado, “It’s not good for a person to be alone,” is not a counsel against solitude.  It doesn’t mean that you should never find yourself alone—quite the opposite. Solitude is terribly important for all of us. However, most of us are quite uncomfortable being alone with ourselves.

It sounds strange, but this is true. When you walk into your home and no one is there, what do you do? If you’re like most people, you’ll immediately turn on the stereo or the television. In our cars, it’s the radio, the CD or mp3 player. We can’t even get into an elevator without hearing muzak (elevator music). Today even our cell phones come equipped with multi-media formats enabling us to walk around with those white ear-pods in our ears, oblivious to the world around us. We can’t even take a walk and be alone with ourselves. Why? Could it be that we’re afraid to be alone with ourselves? But we must spend time with ourselves to be able to hear our inner voice and, perhaps if we are worthy, to feel the Presence of Gd as well.

Rebbe Nachman (Likutey Eytzot) tells us that a person should make it a point to be alone with himself for at least a few minutes each day and he adds, “Anyone who can’t be alone with himself has to be very poor company for others.” Rebbe Nachman’s advice is to withdraw a bit from the routine and rat race that we are so caught up in, and make an appointment with yourself every day.

I know that if someone were to call me on the shule phone and a secretary—if I had one—were to say: “The Rabbi is busy now, he’s talking to someone,” they would understand. But if he/she were to say: “The rabbi is busy now, he’s talking to himself,” or, “he’s listening to himself,” they would be confused. If we never have a moment for ourselves, if we never have a moment to catch our breath, and think or feel or pray or just do nothing, then what kind of human lives are we leading?

So the Torah isn’t teaching us not to spend time in solitude. Solitude played an important part in the lives of all the great religious figures in our tradition. Moses, after all, was up on Sinai twice for 40 days. Abraham certainly had his moments alone with Gd. But solitude is chosen. Loneliness is the plague of an inability to break out of solitude, to find someone else who shares your soul, whose life is entwined with your own. 

Today we began again the reading of the Torah and the story of creation. What’s the greatest mystery about creation? The greatest mystery, without doubt, is not how long did it take Gd to create the world. It doesn’t really matter to most people if it was 6 days or 6 billion years. The greatest mystery is not why Adam sinned, or why Gd placed Adam in a garden, or what it means that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, or why it is, by the way, that the creation of Adam the man is mentioned in one verse and the creation of women takes up 6 verses. The greatest mystery is why did Gd all of a sudden decide He’s got to have a world? 

Well, I don’t know the answer any more than you do. I can tell you that according to Kabbalah, Gd created the world in order to have an opportunity to display His goodness. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba) puts it in more personal terms and tells us that Gd created the world because He was lonely. Which means that when Gd said, Lo tov heyot Adam l’vado, “It’s not good that man should be alone,” it was because Gd empathized with the ache in Adam’s heart—that Gd knew how painful it was to be alone.

So we share with Gd the ache of loneliness and the need for love. And at the very beginning the Torah makes clear what is most important. Gd doesn’t say that it’s not good for Adam to be unintelligent. He doesn’t say that it’s not good for Adam to be untalented; it’s not good for Adam not to go to the best schools. He said what’s not good is for Adam to be alone.

So what is our primary task as Jews, as human beings? It’s to insure that we have community, that we have connections, that we have relationships. The curse of life is not when we cannot create, but when we cannot love. Nivra adam y’chidi, the Mishna tells us, “Each human being was created single,” but part of the challenge of creation is to overcome that singleness; to get out of it, to make our hearts tender enough and our hearts open enough to be able to love someone else. 

This is the beginning of the New Year. All the holidays are now finally over. As I was walking around with the Torah this morning, half of the people said, “Good Shabbos,” and half of them said, “Gut Yom Tov.” I said, “No, no, no; the Yom Tovim are over.” That’s it, no more holidays; at least until Chanukah. Now it’s just Shabbos. But this is the Shabbos of beginnings as we begin the Torah anew and our prayer should be the original prayer—Adam’s prayer: Ribono shel olam, Master of the universe, may this coming year never find us alone. Amen!

                                      Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

                                      9/28/13

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