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Parashat Bereshit

October 13, 2009

By Miriam Herscher

One Jewish year and Torah reading cycle closes and one Jewish year and Torah cycle begins…

In synagogues this coming Shabbat we read together the very first parashah of the very first book of our beloved Torah: our guide and charter for our human mission in the Universe.

The chapter opens with the familiar and commanding words: Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” “Time has not diminished the power or the majesty of the familiar biblical account of the creation of the world, nor has familiarity dulled its impact.” (Etz Hayim) These words are awesome, magical, riveting.

And so begins the reading…

My favorite verses in this parashah are 1:3-4: “Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness” each one to reign in the universe, one over the day and one over the night.”

Rashi in his commentary on these verses says “God saw that the light was good so God decreed that it should not be mingled with the darkness, but should function independently during the day.” God’s intention was to keep the darkness and the light separate.

In human life, however, we cannot do this. Life, as we all know, is not so simple, not so black and white. Our lives are inescapably a mixture of light and dark; they are not separated as in Creation and both are inextricably bound together. How can we wrest light out of a life that can overflow with darkness and sadness and pain and injustice?

Our great challenge as humans is to find and cherish the light, the symbol of life and of joy. We may ask ourselves how we can model ourselves after God? How can we as human beings find ways to create light in our lives and keep it in a holy space so that Creation can be a model for us?

How, too, can we separate light from the inevitable darkness in our lives? We need to find ways to disconnect from the dark and elevate, celebrate, and cherish the light and the joy in our lives. Yet we also need to honor the darkness in our lives and live there. This, too, is part of all life. And it is within the darkest of times that we develop the strength and the muscle to help us grow and move out of the darkness, then to fully embrace the joyous times and moments. Light can be all around us and within us. We must search and seek and always make every effort to find it.

When we find ourselves in the darkness if we can find even a very small amount of light it can disperse the darkness.

We need to find a way to live with both the light and the dark and allow space for the two. How can we do this? How can we tolerate this? And is it okay to live in the mixture? Can this, too, be a sacred space for us just as joy and light is sacred in our lives?

Each of us must cherish our God given light.

Each of us must find our own path out of whatever darkness comes into our lives.

We have one opportunity to be in the light each Friday night as we light our candles and usher in the holiness of Shabbat into our Jewish homes, just as our Matriarch Sarah illuminated her tent with Friday night lights thousands of years ago and lit the foundation of our Jewish faith. The candles reveal the unseen and intangible God energy. We honor the divine spiritual connection between ourselves and God and sanctify the moment in time as we usher in tranquility and peace. We pray for ourselves, our loved ones, our community and our world.

May we hold these moments of new beginnings close in our hearts and always know that we have the gift of light and of possibility in our lives.

May we pray for light in our lives and in the lives of those whom we love.

May we pray for light in the world.
Shabbat Shalom

Miriam Herscher is a rabbinical student at The Academy for Jewish Religion, after working many years in corporate America.