In the beginning God created heaven and earth.
The Earth was void and without form and darkness was on the face of the Earth
God’s spirit moved upon the waters
God said let there be light and there was light
God saw that what he had done was good and God separated light from darkness
It was morning and it was evening, the first day…
This past Shabbat we restarted our sojourn through the Torah. And I began to think about that first line from the Bible. It does not matter whether you believe the Bible was written by the hand of God, or by the hand of man. For the important point that is made in Genesis is that it all begins with the Earth.
Torah does not start its story about the Earth with the dominion of mankind over the world. It begins with the creation of the Earth, itself. We are regaled with stories about how everything upon this world was lovingly made by the hand of God, that each and every blade of grass is a testament to the beauty and wonder of life.
Humans are the last things made in the Garden of Eden, and there is a reason for that. We are not supposed to be the usurpers of the Earth’s bounty, but its guardians. We, as human beings, are charged with its care.
Even if you believe that the Book of Genesis was handed down on Mount Sinai, or written by scribes in the court of David ,or written and rewritten by prophets and rabbis over millennia, it does not matter. For the intent is still the same. Our ancestors knew and understood what it meant to be a part of the world around you. They knew what it meant to be part of the rhythm of the seasons and the caretaker of the land. It was sacred to them. There is a reason that our biblical holidays celebrate not only God’s miracles, but the harvest and bounty of the Land of Israel.
There is a reverence in the words of Bereshit that so many in our world have forgotten. We rush about our modern lives forgetting who we are and where we come from. We forget to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the beauty of a thunderstorm, the chirp of a new born bird, the song of a cricket seeking a mate, a kitten discovering a ball of string, and any baby learning to walk.
Watch a child at play and they will teach you the wonders you, as an adult, have forgotten.
I can still remember my oldest son’s face when he discovered that he could stand upright on his own. We were at my parent’s house and he had been “cruising” the furniture for months. It wasn’t a big deal for him, He held on until the couch ended, and then all 11 month olds of him would fall right to his knees and scootch off to his destination.
Now during this time my parents had a little dog. She had been abandoned in the woods and followed them home one day. A tiny misbegotten animal, which had been sorely mistreated wherever she had been. We knew she had been thrown away, for there was no collar or tags by which to identify her.
Well, one day my son left the safety of my parent’s couch and headed for the bookcases. There was that little dog, all 15 pounds of her right in his way. She stood between him and his goal of the bookcase. He decided o try something new.
He held on to her and lifted himself up. He then looked down at her, looked up at us, looked down at her, smiled as only a toddler can, and patted her on the head. A gentle thank you for the help-up. My son realized that he was now taller than the dog. His joy was immense. He never crawled again.
It was a beginning of a new adventure for him, and a new adventure for me. If I had not learned to run yet, I definitely learned to run at that moment. For he just didn’t walk, he raced. Giggling and laughing and raising toddler hell wherever he could. That day the light was turned on for him and it was good.
Later on in life we would need to rekindle his light; that same light that disability had tried to extinguish. But as with everything that he does, my son pulled himself up, looked down, and thanked in his own way those that helped him up. He thanked those that had given him a hand-up and proceeded to raise some kind of hell. He thanked those who gave him a hand-up by being who he was meant to be.
Since that very auspicious “toddler” moment, what I have learned over the years is that every happening, every challenge, every unforeseen path, is a beginning, a Bereshit. Everything that we experience for better, or worse, is an opportunity to turn on a light and separate ourselves from the darkness. Every experience is an opportunity to begin again; to restart our sojourn through this world.
We humans are endowed with this remarkable ability to mold and shape our world. We are given a set of gifts as we enter our life, and it is up to us what we do with it. When we learn to walk do we thank those that helped us up, or do we mow down those that get in our way? When we grow do we grow straight and upright, or do we sink beneath the darkness and destroy that which is good?
What do you do with the gifts that you receive?
Genesis speaks about respecting the world around you. Thanking a little pup came naturally to a toddler; even one we did not know at the time was autistic. Perhaps it is a lesson we all should learn and try to remember going forward. We are given a chance to shine with the light. We are given this opportunity to allow the blessings of the Earth to be bestowed upon us. We need to thank the Earth and protect her. We need to remember that we are but temporary custodians of this planet. We are charged with keeping it safe for the next generation and making sure that it is nurtured, left whole, and cared for with our entire beings.
The Earth provides us joy, warmth, food, shelter, and sustenance. It provides us beauty by which to rest our souls on days when we think we could go on no further. It is a gift to us. It is how we stand upright to carry on. It is God, or Mother Nature’s hand-up, to a weary parent dealing with overwhelming issues and burdens.
Modern peoples think our problems are so different than the burdens of generations, or civilizations that came before. But they really are not. All people throughout the ages wanted a good life. All people throughout the ages wanted happy and healthy children. All people wanted to love and be loved. All people throughout the ages wanted the freedom to be who they were meant to be.
But the one thing that they, our ancestors, did that I fear we do not do enough, is stop and see what is around us and marvel at Earth’s glory and its wonder. So while we tackle our day to day existence and go about our world in our so very modern society, with our very modern problems, we need to heed the words of the prophets, or God, or Mother Nature, and look around. Partake of the Earth. Channel the smile and wonder of a toddler and his little puppy friend. See the wonders of the Earth and know that they are GOOD.