Living in the Light of Goodness

B'reishit, Genesis 1:1−6:8

D'Var Torah By: Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

When God began to create heaven and earth the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water. God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. (1:1-4).

In the beginning of time, there was swirling dark waters and amorphous depth and a Spiritual Presence suspended above it all, hovering. Reading slowly and with pause, we quickly realize that the story of creation is a birthing story. Precreation is the description of a womb -- darkness, depth and amniotic waters; and then, with a burst of light the God of creation births life into being.  

This is our origin story. Assumptions, beliefs, values, guiding principles are formed by the way we tell our story. The cosmos is birthed with light and with goodness. This metaphor of the birthing God is most powerful when seen in the context of other origin stories. For example, the Babylonian myth, The Epic of Enuma Elish describes creation as the result of warring gods. Violence and jealousy are the context. But in Genesis, time, space and being collide in a burst of light and formation begins.

Within the first words of Torah a compelling question is awakened – what is the nature of this primordial light, a light that is created before the sun, the moon, and the stars. Rashi (11th century) comments that it is the light of righteousness that will be planted in the soul of every living being who desires goodness. And the moment the light is declared as good, there is a separation between light and darkness. Those who seek light will live in light and those who choose darkness, will live in darkness.  

And in this cosmic world of distinction and discrepancy, of light and darkness, of righteousness and wrongdoing, The Tree is created, and it is the center of attention.  

And from the ground Adonai God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad. (2:9). And Adonai God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die. (2:16-17). 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. (3:6).

This is a theological setup. This most beautiful tree, the one within easy reach, the tree that will transform your reality, this tree… don’t touch. Why create the tree, why make it beautiful and place it in the center? There is a struggle between the power and loveliness of The Tree and the curiosity of Adam and Eve.

We consume the sweetness of knowledge and suddenly live within distinctions. We are naked, we are covered. We are afraid, we are safe. We are known, we are invisible. We do right. We do wrong. We have a deep capacity for knowing, we know nothing of the mystery that surrounds us. As we reach for the beauty of the fruit, we grasp the ability to choose. Our days are comprised of hundreds of decisions, some small, some consequential, some life altering. We choose what to wear, we choose what to say, to be angry, to be joyful, to be obedient, to break through conventions, to eat our bread with jam, or simply with butter. Choice becomes the catalysis for all human endeavor.

And then, as the sun begins to set and the shadows grow long, wrestling with the diminishing light. This is the in-between time. Not the light of day, not the darkness of night, but in the blurred distinction of dusk. It is the place where most of us live. Not righteous, not evil, but flawed and seeking repair. There is a breeze, a soft wind called ruach. It is the identical word to the spirit (ruach) of God which hovered at the very beginning, moments before the birth of humanity. This time, ruach, the ethereal Presence of breath and wind, the source of life, the transcendent will of the universe, visits in the Garden to proclaim a rebirth, a new definition of what it means to be human: we can know, we can choose, and we become mortal. The universe is still in formation. With one simple act of defiance we experience a recreation of what it means to be human.

Adam and Eve hide among the trees. And the voice of God moves about the garden, perhaps the leaves of the trees quiver in its presence, certainly the humans do. Where are you? This rhetorical question becomes the existential question for all time, still echoing in the spirit of every living human who thinks, who ponders, who yearns to know, who desires to live a life that has meaning. Where are you? And the answer: I am afraid, I am naked, I hide.

We so often hide. Hide because we are afraid or because we are confused or because we’ve been told to shrink away from the light of who we are. We are vulnerable. We struggle to be good and we struggle against it. We toggle between light and darkness, between contradictory impulses of right and wrong, decency and decadence. But the hovering spirit never leaves us. It animates us, it is our light within, it is the creative impulse that enlivens us, it is our desire to be good, to do good and to manifest goodness and light into the world. It is our origin story.