When I was a student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), I spent the summer at Beth Israel hospital as a chaplain in a clinical pastoral education program. That summer was the first time I had been in a multi-faith environment surrounded by other faith leaders. I sat by the bedside of a man who was dying and his wife who couldn't come to terms with what was happening. I told my supervisor, "I don't understand why the doctors don't help; perhaps the nurses could explain the medical reality." My supervisor simply replied, "God sent you [to help]."
I visited another man dying of AIDS who hadn't spoken to his family in years. I told my peers, "I wish I could just call the family." My supervisor responded, "God sent you [to do that]." One Friday afternoon, my supervisor gathered us all together, sharing a lesson before we ended the week. He preached to us. In Genesis 2:18 it is written, "It is not good for human to be alone, I will make a fitting helper." God formed humans for one another, to ease our loneliness. God sent you to be by the bedside and ease the loneliness. God sent you to help process the challenging diagnosis. God sent you to serve as family and friend. We were the helpers, created by God.
As we begin the book of B'reishit again, in a world that feels lonely, it helps to remember that we have the cure to loneliness; it is as old as creation itself. When human beings were formed, the first response of one person to another was admiration: "This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." (Genesis 2:23) One human recognized the humanity of the other and immediately felt a sense of comfort and relief.
The second response of the two creatures is a desire to share in something delightful:
"When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate." (Genesis 3:6)
When we take time to be with one another, we experience a heightened sense of joy. The verse calls our attention to the innate desire to share experiences with one another, to join together.
But, in the third interaction between these humans, fear and doubt changes the dynamics. God asks the humans about their location and if they ate from the tree of Good and Evil: "The man said, the woman You put at my side-she gave me of the tree, and I ate." Genesis 3:2.
After three interactions, the first human being turned against the other. The Rabbinic commentaries, in their explanation of the phrase "fitting helper," explain that the Hebrew phrase could mean helping with or pushing against. Human beings were created to comfort one another. We were formed to be fitting help mates, to ease loneliness. And when we were confronted by authority, when we felt afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed, the relationship becomes polarized. When Adam and Eve no longer worked together, God banished them from the Garden of Eden.
As I read B'reishit again, I look toward an opportunity to begin this year differently and wonder if I might be able to respond differently when someone pushes against me. How can I inquire about what they need, or how I can help? Instead of attacking, how can I understand their pain, their fear, their shame? Together, I hope our community can draw from this parsha and look at moments gone wrong as opportunities for conversation and reflection. It is hard, but we can remember it is our role, God sent us.