One week. Seven days. It took God one week to create the world. And in one week, Hamas has threatened to destroy it. In many ways they have already– they destroyed countless souls who were each a world unto themselves. And we here in this room are forever changed. One week ago we were completely different, our worries and fears were different. Think for a moment about who you were last Shabbat. What was on your mind then?
Masechet Taanit 27b explains the process for how we fast when Jews face calamity (just as we fasted this past Thursday). There we read about how the Anshei Maamad would go to the beit knesset and fast on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Each day would be for a different form of rachamim, healing, or protection, connected to the days of creation. Friday and Saturday are excluded from fasting because of lichvod Shabbat (honoring Shabbat). But what about Sunday? Why is it left out from the days of fasting? Several reasons are given, but I will share the answer given that is connected to Maaseh Bereishit. Say the Tanaiim, we don’t fast on Sunday מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא שְׁלִישִׁי לַיְצִירָה, because it is the third day after the creation of mankind (who was created on Friday).
What’s the significance here? As Rashi and Rabbeinu Chananel explain, כלומר נברא האדם בששי הנה ששי ושבת ויום ראשון הרי שלש ליצירה והוא עדיין חלש, man was created on Friday, so that makes Sunday the third day. The third day of recovery from a wound or sickness– in this case one’s very creation– is considered the most painful and so one is still weak. This is similar to the halachot of bikkur cholim, where we recognize visiting on the third day is the hardest for the person who is ill. Connected with Avraham Avinu following his bris– our tradition teaches that the third day is the hardest, for on it, the person is most weak.
The pangs of childbirth are usually associated with the mother, but here we see the pain and exhaustion of actually being created connected to the creation itself. Is it hard to be created?
Parshat Bereishit has been on my mind all week. Watching destruction as we read about beginnings– light out of darkness, order out of chaos. Each day of these first seven days have felt worthy of fasting. I don’t need to explain because we all know in the fiber of our being. Massacred, abandoned, betrayed, helpless, terrified, and shaken. Rightly so, many are having a hard time concentrating, working, or doing anything productive. As some rabbis have said, we are in a pseudo aninut– the time between death and burial– a liminal time of heartbreak, survival, and putting all we have into placing one foot in front of the other. In one week we are forever changed– by the evil so aptly described by an Israeli psychologist as “greater and crueler than our souls can contain”.
One week. Seven days. God created the world in one week. And it took Am Yisrael one week to rebuild it. One week to create an achdut like no other we have known, possibly in our people’s history. Certainly in my lifetime. Charedim enlisting, chilonim laying tefillin and wearing tzitzit, AIPAC and J Street aligned. Our resilience, our devotion to mitzvot and each other have put everything into focus. Ahavat Yisrael among Am Yisrael is stronger than ever. Which is quite a shift since Yom Kippur just a few weeks ago…
So is it hard to be created? Yes. And maybe the reason is because creation by nature comes from either destruction and/or a bringing together of disparate parts. Sometimes our creation comes from the spiritual kiln – like at Elul and the Chagim when we create a new self, a self that is free from sin and ready to have hope for the year ahead. And sometimes our creation comes from realizing something is wrong, missing, or lacking and needs to be replaced with something new and better. Creating good in response to evil.
I have never loved the idea of kol hatchalot kashot, that “all beginnings are hard”. Because I don’t want them to be. But when I’m honest with myself, how could they not be? We start with tohu vavohu (chaos) and create light, order, and purpose. To begin is the ultimate act of faith and resilience.
An image from my “one week”: I spent much of my time providing staff support to Jewish healthcare workers and creating spaces for Jews to mourn and emotionally support each other. But on Thursday, I led an almost entirely non-Jewish ICU staff in prayers and a moment of silence. They had requested prayer because they were having a hard time. They were doing their jobs, of course, but emotionally, they were struggling. And so they made the request– unprompted by me– for prayers and silence for Israel. As people who have been called to heal and preserve life, watching the horrors of Hamas shook their spirits… as it should.
Standing in an ICU full of staff, patients, and families around, we prayed and took a moment of silence. What hit me most was that the staff all know I am an Orthodox Jew. I have worked closely with them on many cases– providing spiritual care for Jews and non-Jews alike. And in many of the surrounding rooms, there were Jewish patients and families receiving care. That moment of prayer was as much for me as it was for them. The image of people of all backgrounds standing together in a critical care unit praying for the victims, for peace, and for light. That’s not an image that I could have created in my mind one week ago.
One week. Seven days. As we look ahead to the next week (as well as the new month, on this Shabbat Mevarchim), may we merit to create light and goodness. For other nations to treat us with light and goodness. And for God to partner with us in creating a better world we could not have imagined just seven days ago…and seven days from now.
Originally delivered as a sermon on October 14th, 2023 at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, NJ.