Beginnings are holy.
Every year, in this season of renewal, we are given the extraordinary opportunity to begin again.
We begin again with a clean slate – or, perhaps, a cleaner slate. We return to the narrative of our creation, reading the Torah from its very first words, and imagining the moment when the heavens and the earth were formed, when everything and everyone inhabited the original makom kadosh, the Garden of Eden.
Like a favorite film we watch over and over again, our chanting of the holy text is illuminated by the human gift of experience; we already know the end of this story. We’ve read, discussed, and debated this tale many, many times. In the end, we simply can’t ignore what we already know: that the perfection of the Garden is temporary, and that the chaos of the human condition will soon overrun the flawlessness of God’s creation.
In reality, we only get one true beginning – that moment that we are born into this world. Every other “beginning” is simply a type of reset, an emotional reset of that which already exists.
Yes, we can metaphorically begin again. But we are physically confined to these bodies, and emotionally connected to a lifetime of experience and circumstance. We can lech l’cha (go forth) and physically move to a different home or a different country. We can declutter our homes, empty our inbox, and organize our sock drawers – but we will almost certainly carry with us the baggage of our parents, our past relationships, our physical and emotional burdens, our disappointments, and our regrets.
Like many of us, I’ve spent years trying to shed much of that baggage. Recently, however, I’ve accepted that I am exactly who I am because of the difficulty. I am who I am because of the struggles. Without those experiences, I would inevitably be someone quite different. Perhaps happier. Maybe more grounded. But without those trials, I would be her – not me.
To be honest, I’ve grown to like me. I am certainly far from perfect, and I am constantly striving to push my own boundaries and to grow. Today, at my core, I am pretty content with who I am.
Still, when I read B’reishit I am reminded that there once was a world that was truly uncomplicated. There was a garden. There were healthy things to eat. We were vegetarians and raw food junkies by default. (This is pre-Paleo Diet.) We had clean air and fresh fruit with no pesticides, and spent our days in a lush playground created by the Ultimate Designer. There were very few rules.
Actually, it really does sound like paradise.
The profound lesson lies in the end of the story when Adam and Chava are cast out of the Garden. Many rabbinic commentaries imply that this was God’s plan all along: that we were always meant to grapple with the complexities of our relationships with each other and with God. We weren’t meant to stay in Gan Eden for very long. It was a nest of sorts, a safe place to become strong and to grow wings, not a place to live out our days.
Each year in the long shadow of Yom Kippur – the emotional and spiritual detoxification of the Jewish people, we read the story of our creation. We are reminded that while the essence of our beings does not change, we can radically alter our paths on this journey. In some ways, we yearn for a simpler, easier set of rules – just as they had in Gan Eden – as we navigate life’s journey. But we know that the struggles and the challenges in our lives can be seen as opportunities to grow, to ground, and to be conscious of our place and purpose in the world. We understand that we are ultimately responsible for our environment and how we contribute to the world.
This is the ultimate lesson of B’reishit. Chava and Adam begin again – this time outside the confines of the Garden, but still under the comforting wings of the Shechinah (the feminine aspect of God). And so, too, can we begin again, when we choose to accept the responsibility and the challenge of that re-beginning, that return to the essence of our creation.
Beginnings are sacred opportunities. May we continue to see the opportunity to restart and renew our lives while embracing our past struggles. And may we recognize these opportunities for resetting and restarting our lives as precious and holy gifts.