Begin the Beginning

This time of year has many overlapping beginnings — new school year, new Jewish year — to which I’ve added, this year, new job and new congregation. As the fall chaggim come to a close, we turn again to the beginning, scrolling back to B’reishit.

In the past year, I’d discovered the irony of working at a synagogue. While I was closer to synagogue life than I’d been in recent years, my purpose there was to facilitate others’ spiritual work. Meanwhile, my own spiritual life was feeling more and more distant. Sort of like the cobbler’s children having no shoes.

Now that I am working for a Jewish communal organization, I no longer work nights, weekends, and holidays: I can be Jewish again! In the past weeks, I have enjoyed simple pleasures like hosting Shabbat dinner in my sukkah and dancing with the Torah scrolls again. I have had the honor of dressing the scrolls and have been invited for several festive meals with friends.

Having had three late nights in a row with the boys, I hadn’t expected to get to services today, although I dearly love starting again at the Beginning. I was thrilled when my friend called to invite them to come to a movie this morning, freeing me up to go to shul alone. It was a beautiful, contemplative service and having a little breathing space around me showed me the metaphor in the 2nd creation story for the first time.

Call me slow.

I finally see that the Garden is like infancy — and that the discovery of the tree, the temptation, and the curse are all part of life. It’s not a terrible fall from grace to discover that there are choices in life, and the choices we make matter, and that people sometimes blame others when things go wrong. This Torah of ours is not trying to shame us into an eternal guilt trip, it’s showing us who we are. Adam and Eve aren’t punished for doing evil; their curiosity was not a sin, and G-d’s response is not a curse.

It’s a statement of fact: snakes are gross, childbirth hurts, and farming is hard.

G-d drives the two out of the Garden, sending them into the world, and stations cherubim east of Eden, guarding the way to the Tree of Life. Those of us who encounter these angels and discover the Torah, Eitz Chaim, are brought back to Eden when we study, and are given the chance to learn for ourselves. And each year, when we return to the Beginning, we have the opportunity to see it anew and to try again.

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