Good Shabbat everyone. Welcome guests. As we begin the first chapter of creation, known as Bereshit, we read, "In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth." Throughout history, philosophers and literary artists have given us their interpretations of creation. For example, four hundred years ago, around the time of William Shakespeare, there was an Italian writer, Dante, who wrote the Divine Comedy. In the first part of the three books that he wrote, which is called "Inferno," referring to "hell," he introduces the Avot, the biblical forefathers- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, who are included in a scene. Dante, the author, struggled with the fact that because these Biblical giants pre-dated the historical Christian messiah, they were stuck in this eternal separation from G-d, because, like all non-believers, according to Christian believers in the Middle Ages within the Catholic faith, they were not baptized nor had been close enough to G-d to be admitted into heaven. In the Middle Ages in Italy, the Jewish fathers of the faith were recognized as great prophets, but in the context of this literary allegory, what could be done with them? What Dante did was to create a piece of hell, Elysian Fields, for them. These fields are also found in beautiful, country-like settings where the Jewish forefathers are placed. This is their afterlife.
Another renowned author, and Englishman John Milton, wrote "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained" in the 1600’s. Milton had a masterful command of English language with a remarkable ability to conjure up imagery. Milton wrote about Lucifer, whom he called G-d’s right hand angel during the time of Adam and Eve’s dwelling in the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, Milton describes Satan and his plan in a way that is at the same time breathtaking and horrifying. In his writings, Satan did not like being #2, led a rebellion against G-d. G-d overthrew his rebellion and delegated him to eternity in the pit of hell. Satan’s last words, describing hell, that it was fire, brimstone and smelly sulfur, along his final words, "Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven."
The classical musician, Handel, about 250 years ago, wrote, "The Messiah," an account of the Divine Savior’s intervention in G-d’s creation—an epic poem of the story of redemption and resurrection set to beautiful music. Michelangelo, another Renaissance genius depicted a famous depiction of creation in the Sistine Chapel, in Italy.
Why is this Torah portion so important, studied, analyzed and explored since time immemorial, through literature, music, art and philosophy? This Bereshit is the initial act by which G-d chose to demonstrate his love for all humankind. This universe was created, and then the revelation came, 2,448 years later at Mt. Sinai with the giving of the Torah. This act of creation is the act which demonstrates that people are connected to G-d--all humans consist of two aspects, a dual nature, we have a spiritual and a physical component. The story of creation tells how the one divine eternal creator chose to bring physicality, and therefore man into existence and how the Almighty continues to provide and care for the needs of all people.
The book of Genesis is the original epic. This is where everything begins. We don’t look at the beginning of life, starting with a tiny amoeba; we look at it at a grand level. Only G-d can truly describe it, because he was the only one there, he was the creator and the designer. Yet the way G-d tells it, is both simple and yet endlessly deep. No person can fathom the actual act of creation. Rambam, the great physician and rabbi who lived in the 12th century, said that, in accord with Greek philosophy, G-d first created primeval substance from which He made everything else. Interestingly, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who contradicts the Torah by saying that all of creation existed eternally with no beginning, in other words, everything "was," therefore there was no "creation," per se. Just as we say, G-d is eternal, Aristotle said, "All the planets and the universe are eternal." Moreover, Rambam, Maimonides, found some of Aristotle’s arguments to be so logically persuasive, that he stated that if man didn’t know that the Torah teaches that Hashem is eternal and the Torah teaches the truth of creation, then he might have agreed with Aristotle.
Moving up to the present in today’s world, astronomers, metaphysicists, and technological scientific theorists are continually asking the basic questions of the origins of creation. So let us ask ourselves, has the notion of creation from nothing changed among the Jews throughout the millennium? The answer is, no.
In the book: The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe Report by Timothy Ferris It is written that only since the twentieth century of the Common Era that science has developed a cosmology with a beginning and a creation from nothing.
Let’s ask, "What is the reason people generally choose to avoid or not look into the Torah?" There are several reasons, and certainly one is this….once people realize there is a G-d, they have to ask of themselves, what does G-d want of us? He created us……why? And when you look in the Torah, you will recognize that the King, the Master of the Universe, has placed obligations on all humankind, generally, with the 7 Laws of Noah. Which I would encourage you to read, in a current issue of Moment Magazine, the cover story is dedicated to these laws of humankind and contemporary issues related to these laws. If we acknowledge that G-d is the King, we have to listen to him. He created us, therefore, how do the laws given in the Torah to govern our lives? They fall into two categories, one, between G-d and human, and secondly, human to human.
Generally speaking, people resist being ordered or commanded how to live their lives. This is part of ego, of which people are. Yet, G-d created ego and free will. Why bother to create anything? Why? We learn that G-d is all good. The nature of good is to want to bestow good on others. Therefore, G-d created the universe so that he could do good for humankind. That is not a limitation on G-d, when speaking only in human terms.
So when G-d created Adam and Eve, who are the forbearers of all humanity, he also placed the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Why? The serpent, on its own, according to some commentaries, was not the actual evil inclination. Yet, however, the serpent did allow, theYatzer Hara—the Satan, to enter his physical being. Satan entered the body of the serpent, he was an instrument. Satan used the body as a tool to operate in the physical world. By the way, I was told that there is a new movie out, called, "Snakes on a Plane," which is a modern day version of the serpent reappearing in our contemporary world, causing terror, chaos and destruction to people. It is almost as if the snake had a leading role in paradise, and in the year 2006, the snake has a leading role in a Hollywood movie.
Back to the Garden of Eden, G-d originally "intended" that man should live in a perfect setting forever so that man would not feel like he was only a recipient of good and suffer from feelings of shame like he was receiving a handout. G-d gave Adam a chance to earn Paradise: he gave him one mitzvah, one commandment, in a sense, he told Adam to keep kosher. "This you can eat, from all the trees, but not from the tree of knowledge of good and evil." Understand, Adam had to do this only for one day, and then he would have earned eternity. It would have been Shabbos. G-d wanted to bestow good, so he created man and Eve, his partner. Adam failed to discharge his obligations to the king. He sinned. Now, the King banished him and Eve.
How do we take the lesson in Genesis, put the pieces together and apply it to our own time? Well, we start with the fact that G-d told us about creation. We are given the Torah and its factual description of the origins of life. We are logically led to look to our source, our creator and his purposes and directions for life.
Have you ever wondered where your great-grandparents came from? Your own roots? Well, in a way, G-d is saying, "Your family tree begins with me. Therefore, you have infinite greatness in you." Since G-d tells us this in the beginning of Bereshit he is saying that it is important for us to know and remember our original, eternal relationship. In addition, G-d says, he will never alter the Torah and he will never replace it. These are also included in the principles from Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith.
So, why is all of this relevant today? It is relevant because our Father in heaven is still alive and loves us and continues to sustain all that humanity needs for its ongoing existence and therefore creation is as relevant now as it was when it first occurred, 5767 years ago. Therefore, it is imperative upon every human being, Jews in particular, to serve our King royally, by obeying His laws and expressing gratitude for His endless love.
My dear friends, today we are celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Ani. We may say that their bond of love and a married couple personifies the modern day Adam and Eve couple. Just like Adam and Eve who were soulmates and helpmates so too are Maurice and Joyce Ani. On behalf of everyone present here we want to wish them a warm Mazal Tov. May Hashem grant you many more years of good health and happiness. Shabbat Shalom.