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Parashat Bereishit 5781

October 16, 2020
Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah


A D’var Torah for Parashat Bereishit
By Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman

The story of creation. Though the Torah does not tell us, we might ask: Why did God create in the first place? Perhaps because God was lonely. Not ordinary loneliness – existential loneliness. God existed, but as long as nothing else did, God’s existence had no meaning. So God set out to create something – someone – with whom God could have a relationship – a relationship which later God will call love. God created in search of love.

With the most unusual holiday season behind us, and an extraordinarily stressful few months ahead of us, it might be wise to embrace some of the lessons of God’s search for love.

Our Kabbalistic tradition wisely points out that God’s first step in creating love was to make Godself smaller. On one level, that was a wink to the physical space necessary to create. And yet, on a spiritual and emotional level, we all understand that love always begins by making ourselves, our egos, smaller. We have to make room in our lives and in our hearts for someone else and for their needs and desires.

And then, God’s creation for love involved taking some very big chances. First, God had to create a being – a human being – that had capacity of free will – indeed, the power to love God or to reject God. For after all, how can love be true love without the possibility of choice.

And with free will comes power. It is interesting that the first thing that God says to the human being is “be fruitful and multiply and conquer/subdue the earth” (Gen. 1:28). God is teaching that love means giving up control and then having to live with the consequences. Anyone in a true love relationship understands that the balance of power and control is always difficult, but in love, no one can always be in control.

Indeed, the first human love relationship between Adam and Hava is called “eizer k’negdo.” Our partner is our help at the very moment that he/she challenges us.

One more thing. God had to decide to create a world for the human that would be imperfect. You’ll notice that God made everything “Good”, even “Very good” but not perfect.  Love cannot exist in perfection. That may seem counter-intuitive. An analogy can help.

I’ll use myself as an example. If I did everything my wife asked me to do – exactly the way she wanted it done – on time; and if I gave her everything she wanted – exactly as she wanted it and when she wanted it – and then she said, “I love you,” I would never know if she loved me or if she loved the perfection. But now, to reality. Few days go by when I do not disappoint my wife in small or large ways and she still looks and me and says, “I love you.” I know that she actually loves me. It seems strange, but in perfection, love is confused at best, and meaningless at worst.

So – love required that God create an imperfect world, one in which there was embedded by design the possibility of hurricanes, floods, cancer cells and Covid-19. As imperfections are necessary elements of love – they were never meant to be punishments. However, like the disappointments and setbacks that we experience in our own love relationships, they do serve to make us introspect and consider the meaning, the depth and the power of our love. Looking back over the past month, we realize that we have been asking God to renew God’s love for us in spite of the disappointments God may have in us. And we do the same.

With Parashat Bereishit, our AJR community begins a new year of the Torah and the strength that Torah gives us to rise to the daunting challenges of the new year. And it all begins with love. The Beatles had it partly right when they sang, “All you need is love.” They were wrong when they sang, “It’s easy.”

(maybe there was a Yellow Submarine navigating the primordial watery depths)

Love is anything but easy. God taught us that love means being smaller when you would rather be bigger, giving up control when you would rather maintain it, and enduring imperfection and disappointment even when you want everything to be perfect. But we seek love for the same reason God did. Life has no meaning without it. We do the hard work for love because we believe that through love, we can become better and finer people than we could ever become on our own.

The work ahead of us as Jewish leaders will require a great deal of love. Demonizing people never changed them. Love does. Demonizing people assures that we will never compromise. Love provides the place where ideas meet.

Let us learn from God how to love, really love, and when we do, may God watch and smile and as we make God’s creation a better place.   Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman is a lecturer in Professional Skills at AJR. He is also the rabbi emeritus of the Westchester Jewish Center.