Bereishis 5783: Order of Chaos


HELLO! We certainly live in interesting times. We have a failing despot in Russia with a full arsenal of nuclear weapons at his disposal who blithely sends poorly equipped and poorly trained soldiers as cannon fodder in a war financed by the United States and its allies.

We have a president who seems to be on the verge of senility. He seems increasingly confused at public events; at a recent press conference, he called for a search for a congresswoman who had died nearly two months earlier. Just last week he forgot where his son Beau died – claiming he died in Iraq.

On on the other side, we have an incumbent president with an ever-growing litany of serious legal issues who said in a Fox interview that he could declassify documents just for thinking so.

Maybe most troubling is that it is highly likely that both will be the nominees of their respective political parties again in 2024, as their supporters will blindly accept and defend any nonsense that comes out of their mouths.

In addition, the world is once again on the brink of another very painful recession caused, in part, by soaring inflation and the Federal Reserve’s main weapon in combating it is to raise interest rates to a bewildering pace. Financial markets are in turmoil – last week was the first time the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 500 points and then gained more than 800 points on the same day. The ongoing war in Europe and uncertainty in the global economy over the next couple of years pretty much guarantees that the volatility will continue and most likely erode the wealth of any American with a retirement plan.

As a society that we are also challenged to accept illogical concepts that our grandparents – both Democrats and Republicans – would be shocked to hear. These include ideas such as gender fluidity, that you can fight crime by not prosecuting it, that we’re somehow safer with less police and law enforcement, and the ridiculous concept that you can fight past discrimination with current discrimination.

Without surprise, studies show that 36% of all Americans suffer from severe loneliness and depression. Of course, this is partly a residual effect of the pandemic shutdowns. I remember a friend telling me how relieved he was when he was able to return to work: “I was tired of saying ‘God bless me’ every time I sneezed.

However, There is hope! Much of this instability has been around forever. My older readers will no doubt remember the scary days of the 1950s and 60s and the ongoing Cold War with Russia. Schools regularly held air raid drills and had students dive under their desks in case the school was attacked from the air. Everywhere there were signs indicating that fallout shelters had to flee in the event of a nuclear attack.

We have experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis and the wars in Vietnam and the Middle East (as a child I lived in Israel during the Yom Kippur War and have vivid memories of those dreadful days). We saw interest rates that hit 22% in the 1980s and suffered from diseases like poliomyelitis and AIDS. All this over the past sixty years. Somehow we not only survived, but we came out stronger.

Still, there is a fundamental difference between our time and previous generations. Much of the ills of our society can be traced to structural breakdown. Let me explain to you.

Having finished the Torah last week (on Simchat Torah), we begin the Torah cycle again by reading Genesis. The first verse of the Torah is:In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).

Structure is the very source of existence. The second thing the Almighty created (after the concept of time) was the concept of structure. Until the actual creation of heaven and earth (and everything in it), everything was part of an undifferentiated reality because the existence of God is both an existential imperative and an indivisible reality. It was not until God gave each thing its unique structure that “things” came into existence; heaven and earth and everything in between – above and below.

Thereby, structure is the very foundation of life. When everything works within a defined structure, we have order and harmony. When said structure is disturbed, we inevitably find pain and misalignment – ​​a good example of this is what happens when you smash your hand against a wall. The more the innate structure is disturbed, the more pain there is and the longer the pain will last.

In many ways the very fabric of our society and its institutions has been torn. We have broken families, a dysfunctional public school system, seriously flawed political and legal systems, and perhaps most importantly, our religious institutions are being abandoned at an increasingly rapid rate. According to a 2018 study, almost half of adults under the age of thirty do not identify with any religion.

This last piece particularly frightening. Erica Komisar, a well-known therapist, writes, “A 2018 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology looked at how being raised in a family with religious or spiritual beliefs affects mental health. The Harvard researchers examined religious involvement in a longitudinal dataset of about 5,000 people, with controls for sociodemographic characteristics and maternal health.

“The result? Children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once a week had higher scores on measures of psychological well-being and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteering, a sense of purpose, forgiveness, and lower odds of drug use and early sexual initiation.

Those those who don’t believe in God are left with the inescapable alternative that everything is an accident with no purpose or higher meaning other than the maximization of selfish pleasures. Altruism is then an act against oneself and must be avoided at all costs. The resulting self-centeredness will not generate many meaningful relationships. Is it any wonder that this nihilistic approach to life leads to depression and loneliness?

But the belief in God is not enough – we must also act. Anyone who studies the infrastructure of Judaism will notice that the primary goal is to create community by establishing a relationship with the Almighty and others through selfless and selfless behavior. For example, our daily prayer gatherings naturally create community because they require us to live close to each other. This encourages the structured family life seen in this week’s game.

After the creation of Adam God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will create a compatible assistant for him […] The man will therefore leave his father and his mother and will attach himself to his wife and they will become one. » (Genesis 2:18-24). God also blesses Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.

The truths of faith and the unchanging shared moral values ​​drawn from the Torah are the essential elements of building a powerful community – a community capable of withstanding many thousands of years of persecution and the deliberate horrors imposed on the Jewish people for millennia. The Jewish people not only survived, but thrived and became a global force and contributor on the world stage – far outnumbering their relatively small numbers.

(Sure, this emphasis on Torah values ​​is not limited to Judaism or its adherents. My brother Rabbi Akiva Zweig, who spent the Sukkot vacation on our campus in Pennsylvania, was invited by a local weekly Bible study group to share some thoughts with them. They came to his sukkah and he taught them all about the holiday and what is celebrated.)

I want I would like to suggest to all of my readers that, if you are not already doing so, you commit to reading the Torah portion in its entirety each week. It is the very source of our lives and the foundation of the morality it has brought to the world at large. Make it a “tent pole” of your week – the structure that holds everything else in place.

my suggestion is that you are using the excellent English translation of the Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, of blessed memory, called The Living Torah, which is by far the most readable and scholarly English version of the Torah I have ever seen. If for any reason you are unable to purchase a copy of The Living Torah, please drop me a note and I’ll try to help. You can reach me at [email protected]

wishing all my readers a year of renewed commitment to both growth in Torah and building personal and community structure.

Bereishis, Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

The five books of Moses begins with the Six Days of Creation, the Shabbat, the story of the Garden of Eden – the first transgression, the consequences and the expulsion; Cain and Abel, the ten generations down to Noah, the Almighty sees the wickedness of man in this generation and decrees to “blow out man” (ie the flood).

A of the most profound verses in the entire Torah is “And God created man in his own image”. Since God does not have a physical being, it means we are endowed with free will, morality, reason, and the ability to imitate God who bestows goodness. Also, if we truly appreciate that we are created in the image of God, we realize that we have intrinsic worth. Therefore, there is no need to be depressed wondering if you have intrinsic value!

Candle lighting hours

When men choose not to believe in God, they no longer believe in anything, so they become able to believe in anything.
—GK Chesterton

Dedicated to the loving memory of

Roberta Herzog
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