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Parashat Bereisheet 5784

October 9, 2023
by Rabbi Enid C. Lader

A D’var Torah for Parashat Bereisheet

By Rabbi Enid C. Lader

וַיִּקְרָ֛א יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶל־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ל֖וֹ אַיֶּֽכָּה׃

The ETERNAL God called to the human and said to him:

Ayekha? (Gen. 3:9)

Each year I read with anticipation the first chapter of Torah. I marvel at the first days of Creation as God, with just God’s voice, calls up the heavenly and earthly domains, and then proceeds to fill them – with just God’s voice. And all this from a chaotic intermingling of waters and darkness… “And God said: Let there be light…” – and so it begins. Light and darkness; sky, land and sea; sun, moon and stars; trees and shrubs and grasses; fish and birds and land animals – and those that dwell in both the sea and the earth; and then humankind, both male and female, instructing them to “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” (Gen. 1:29)

Chapter two is not quite as systematically organized; we seem to come into a story that has already begun.

Be that as it may, Eden is a beautiful garden-world. This time, we are privy to “… YHWH God formed the Human [Adam] from the dust of the earth, blowing into his nostrils the breath of life: the Human became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7) And Adam becomes the groundskeeper of the Garden, “to till and to tend it.” (Gen. 2:15) Just don’t eat from the tree in the center of the garden; the tree of knowledge of good and bad.

Not wanting Adam to be alone, God creates all kinds of species – and Adam is tasked with naming them; but does not find a fitting partner. God senses his loneliness, and from Adam’s side a life partner is made – Havah/Eve. (Gen. 2:21-24)

We don’t hear any instructions specifically given to Eve, but imagine Adam might have told her that eating from the tree of knowledge of good and bad is off limits. But, as we well know, Eve succumbs to the serpent’s “invitation” and both she and Adam enjoy the fruit. (Gen. 3:1-6) Although they had not realized it before, they now look down to find themselves naked, and quickly sew leaves together to cover themselves… and then hide from God.

At this point they realize that they have done something wrong.

And the voice that called the world into bring… the voice that called out for the heavenly and earthly domains and then filled them… God’s voice called out to Adam and said: Ayekha?

With Adam and Eve hiding in the garden, we can imagine that God is looking for them, “Where are you?”

But the letters that spell “Ayekha” – Aleph-Yud-Kaf-Hey – also spell “Eikha” – how? This is the opening word of the book of Lamentations/Eikha. Is it possible that God is asking them, “How [could you have done this]?”

With eating the fruit from the tree, Adam and Eve have brought the knowledge of good and the knowledge of bad into the world; and with that, they have brought personal (and ultimately communal) responsibility into the world.

In the book of Ecclesiastes (7:13) we read: “See the work of God, for who can mend what God has twisted?” Rashi suggests that we read this verse as: “For who [else] can straighten…”; in other words, who else can straighten after death that which a person made crooked during their life?”

There is a well-known midrash based on this understanding: “When the Holy One blessed be He created Adam the first man, He took him and showed him all the trees in the Garden of Eden, and He said to him: ‘See My creations, how beautiful and exemplary they are. Everything I created, I created for you. Make certain that you do not ruin and destroy My world, for if you destroy it, there will be no one to mend it after you…’ ” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)

God’s instruction to Adam and God’s question to Adam and Eve echo to us today, as so many of us crouch hiding, trying to cover up the naked truth, knowing full well what we have done to this beautiful world.

Eikha/How could we… knowingly damage lands and waters just for our own domination – political or economic? Who will set it straight?

Eikha/How could we… continue to spew poisons into the air and the waters and the land without a care to how it would affect someone else’s home? Who will set it straight?

Eikha/How could we… drill down into the ground for more fuel, knowing full well that it continues to uproot the creatures who share this world with us?

As more and more of us realize the toll of our lack of taking responsibility, we could become mired down in the muck of despair. But out of the chaos, we must keep the voice of hope before us. We must keep our grandchildren before us. We can reduce our carbon footprint. We can consume less meat and dairy products. We can vote for a climate-friendly government agenda. We cannot leave this world until we have taken responsibility, both personal and communal, and begun to straighten – with our words and our actions – what we have twisted.

“… And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.” [Judy Chicago, “Merger”]

Rabbi Enid Lader is the Rabbi Emerita of Beth Israel – The West Temple. She is a member of the Association of Rabbis and Cantors, and is the secretary for AJR’s Board of Trustees. Enid takes great joy from her grandchildren – and from her husband Harry’s work to help raise awareness of the effects of climate change and steps we can take to begin to straighten what we have twisted.