By Rabbi Avremel Matusof
“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” I appreciate the value in such caution, and often go along with this line of thinking, but Judaism demands we should be bolder than those who try fixing unbroken stuff.
On Simchat Torah (celebrated this year on October 7 and 8), we complete the reading of the entire Torah and immediately start from the beginning. This following Shabbat (October 14) is known as Shabbat Bereishit because we read the Torah’s opening narrative of creation and early civilization called Parshat Bereishit.
The fact that the Torah begins with creation is puzzling because “Sefer Torah” means guide book, not history book. It follows that perhaps the most appropriate opening for the Torah would have been the first commandments G-d communicated to the Jewish people through Moses. What guidance can we glean from learning how G-d created heaven and earth?
One of the most famous blessings in Judaism is the Hamotzi blessing for Challah or bread. Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d King of the universe who brings forth bread from the ground.
This language is peculiar since the last time I checked, bread doesn’t grow from the ground. Bread is the final product produced by people harvesting grain that grows from the ground, grinding the kernels into flour, kneading the flour into a dough, and baking it in an oven. Our sages were certainly aware of this process, so why did they compose such a blessing?
G-d created a perfect world with the intention that humans will make it even more perfect. Although wheat is perfect, it has minimal nutritional value unless we humans turn it into bread. The genius of this arrangement is that instead of being passive receivers with no investment in the game, we become active partners in the divine enterprise called creation. We are empowered to be “creators,” and the Hamotzi blessing celebrates our partnership with G-d in creation.
The same is true about humanity. G-d created Adam and Eve perfectly, but gave them full autonomy over their behavior, with the mission of ensuring human life evolved in accordance with G-d’s will, with peace and tranquility for all. The record shows that early humans failed miserably on many fronts. It follows that we are G-d’s partners in creating the perfect society. G-d will not do it for us.
Torah begins with creation to inform us that its guidelines are not merely a religious creed for a select few to live more spiritually, rather a template for how we can be G-d’s partners in creating a brand new world. We read this story at the beginning of the new year because now is the time to decide how we are going to make this new world. Commit to more Torah study, do another mitzvah, and influence others to do the same, and together we will experience the brilliant era of Moshiach when peace and tranquility will reign for all.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Avremel Matusof is a Madison native. He received his rabbinic ordination at the Rabbinic Talmudic College in NYC. Rabbi Avremel has traveled extensively to bring hope and direction to smaller communities, including Namibia, Ghana, China, Dominica, and Kauai, Hawaii. He moved back to the area with his wife, Chaya Mushka, in the summer of 2011 as Director of the Young Jewish Professionals program (a Chabad of Madison affiliate), serving the growing professional population of the area.