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The Message of Genesis: Growth and Renewal

The Message of Genesis: Growth and Renewal

Unseasonable weather across the globe confounds our sense of season-change, yet the Torah-cycle presses a definitive restart to another Jewish year. It’s Genesis all over again.  A well-ordered, epic narrative re-creates heaven and earth before our eyes. 

Shaking the literalness of that famous Genesis opening, Rivka Miriam  – an Israeli poet – begins one of her poems:

In the beginning God created
the heavens that actually are not
and the earth that wants to touch them.

Are you scandalized by this Hebrew poet’s rephrasing of the first statement of belief in the Torah?  Would it bother you if your rabbi read this poem this upcoming Shabbat from the bimah?  I highly doubt it. But what characterizes theological discussions is not true for other aspects of Jewish communal conversations.

I’ve heard a rabbinic friend say to her congregants that it’s easier for her to question God from the bimah than it is to speak about Israeli politics. Not only Jewish leaders are subjected to charges of “heresy” from the right or the left, supposed “friends” on Facebook can be quite unfriendly when they disagree with each other about Israel. 

As director of Israel engagement for the Reform Movement, I know why the arguments are so heated. Israel raises issues of existential import. People feel frightened when the lives with whom they identify matter. Our evolutionary threat-responses were not designed to spend time examining situations for their complexity.  When opposing viewpoints stem from this mode, there is only impasse and, certainly, no desire for dialogue. 

Most of us understand the need to see complex situations from multiple points of view.  Most of us know that compromise at some level is necessary for working solutions that cut across difference. Unfortunately, we as a Jewish community have let the loudest, intractable voices scare the rest of us away from a nuanced conversation leading to forward-thinking solutions.    

Genesis calls out to us to see the promise of continual growth and renewal, and to be warned about how discord and mistrust stand in the way of human progress. 

In the opening of a powerful poem, “From the Place We are Right,”  Yehuda Amichai – the most celebrated Israeli poet of the late 20th century – describes how dogmatism disrupts the vision of Creation:

From the place where we are right
there will never grow
flowers in the Spring.

The place where we are right
is trampled and hard
like a yard.

Whether about Israel’s issues, domestic politics, or other global concerns, think about what you might do to plough the way towards the airing and sharing across differences in service of planting seeds for a common good. 

Rabbi Reuven Greenvald is the director of Israel engagement at the Union for Reform Judaism.  His prior experience in re-thinking Israel engagement comes from work on innovative initiatives in the North American program of the Jewish Agency for Israel.  

Rabbi Reuven Greenvald
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