There are so many commandments; so many intricacies to Judaism. From all the holidays to the dietary laws to the ritual commandments and the tiniest details of the many prayers we say and how we say them. So it is interesting that, the week after we conclude all the many holidays of the month of Tishrei, we get Bereshit - 'in the beginning' - which one could argue is the simplest parsha in all of the Torah.
Our of chaos came order. God creates for six days, and rests. The first two human beings discover shame, and mortality. Pretty simple stuff: there's a reason Bereshit is such a popular story to teach in Jewish pre-schools.
And one of the core moral truths to all of Torah is there, too. And it's pretty simple. Be positive, not negative. Uplift your fellow man, as God as uplifted you. Because we were created in the image of God, we have an obligation - not as Jews, but as humans, to elevate, not denigrate our fellow human. To glorify and not belittle. And we desire at our very foundations to spread that love, trust, and positive energy to everyone while simultaneously counteracting all forces of negativity - because that's what God would do.
In this week’s parsha, we read from the beginning of the Torah. There, in Genesis 1:27, we are told ‘And God created human in the Divine image, in the image of God was human created’. On this verse, the Hassidic master known as The Alter of Slobodka said:
“According to this Torah, humankind was designed to be a witness that testifies to the manifest reality of the Divine in the Universe. The creation must give testimony to its Creator, not in speech and in action, but rather to the very fiber of its existence.
It is the testimony of humankind to elevate and to reach to the realm of the spiritual and the moral - that they must recognize and comprehend the image between themselves and their Master.”
We were put on this earth to elevate and to glorify our fellow humans with the very fiber of our essence. To prove that every person is created in the image of God.
That's the core of all of Torah. Sometimes, Judaism really is that simple.
- Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
Time is not a line.
How we conceive of our movement through time is a central theme in how we frame our own meaning and existence. We might think that we move from to 5779 to 5780 as if plowing ever forward like a bulldozer clearing trees or like a car driving down a neverending road. That the past is eternally behind us in the rear view mirror and the future is unknown. This is not true.
Time is a circle. We are constantly leaving home and returning to it; experiencing sublime moments and then revisiting those moments as memories or deja vu, or even as the connective tissue between an old peak experience and the current one. Trama, too, is a circle. We revisit old injury and reopen them. We heal, we are wounded, we heal, we are wounded. And sins and mistakes too. Our latest apology is given knowing that we will try our darned-est, but will like fail again.
One of history's most exceptional rabbi, Rabbi Alan Lew (z"l), wrote "If you are moving along the circumference of a circle, it might seem at first as if the starting point is moving farther and farther away, but actually it is getting closer and closer. That is the Jewish calendar."
Tishrei - the penitential season that includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the pilgramidge holiday of Sukkot, has come around again. We are returning home. We are departing. We are returning home. We maintain our essential nature of who we are. We grow and change.
Shanah Tovah u'Metukah.
- Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
I write this amidst another tumultuous week in what has been a tumultuous year for the American Jewish community. As I write, the President has questioned the loyalty of Jews who choose not to vote for him; two Congresswomen with a reputation for criticizing Israel have been denied permission to travel there; and the American Jewish community has been in response/crisis/media mode, with the heads of the ADL, Reform and Conservative movements, and other leading institutions showing up in newspapers and on CNN. In conversations and online, there has been much fighting; amongst voices inside the Jewish community as well as against non-Jews who claim to know what's 'best for the Jews.' Much of the rhetoric has been bitter, and charged. The word 'antisemitic' is popping up everywhere.
It has been an exhausting week. It is only Wednesday.
And I imagine, even though it will be another week and a half until you read this, that there will be another controversy or political battle about Jews in America between now and then. Or two. Or three. Such has been the nature of 2019. It makes me want to curl up under the covers and hide.
It becomes even more complicated when I think about what, as a rabbi, I am supposed to do. Should the synagogue be the main point of address for these nasty fights and angry battles? Am I not duty-bound to help us, as a people, contextualize and frame the debates that are raging? Is this battle over antisemitism occurring at the highest levels of our nation a pressing crisis that we must contend with as a community? Or, to paraphrase the Jewish Forward's Opinion Editor, Batya Ungar-Sargon, are the Jews tired?
Tired of being political pawns.
Tired of hearing angry divisive political rhetoric from Jerusalem and Washington DC.
Tired of listening to another sermon about another topic that just boils the blood or depresses the soul.
A synagogue must serve both as a place of outrage and refuge. We must discuss the topic of the day but also be a place to seek solace from the wars that are raging. I do my best to help facilitate both - to make Brith Shalom a comfortable place for spiritual recharge, but also to make it be a beacon of ethical right and a place to clarify the moral teachings of our tradition, even when that takes a political tinge. Finding that balance is just trickier now than it has ever been before.
The Jews are tired. But we can neither be too tired to fight, nor must we battle on wearily without stopping to refresh and reboot ourselves spiritually on occasion. The Jews are tired. Together, we must make our shul be an oasis of peace and contemplation.
- Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman is the spiritual leader of Brith Sholom Jewish Center in Erie, PA. These are a collection of thoughts and writings since he joined the community in Erie. For more of his past writings, click here.