Commentary on Parashat Bereshit, Genesis 1:1 - 6:8
It was a perfect setting. After hours of climbing, my friend and I had reached the summit of one peak in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Our bodies were exhausted and cooled off in the mountain top breeze. We leaned against a big boulder and took in the panorama of peaks and valleys, blue sky, rivers and lakes stretched out before us.
Wrung out, I was content to sit and rest. My friend, however, reached for his siddur (prayer book) and read aloud a passage from Chapter 104 of Tehillim (Psalms) which we read each Rosh Chodesh — the beginning of a new Jewish month. “Bless the Lord, O my soul…How abundant are Your works, God, with wisdom you have made them all…”
This chapter of Psalms captured the spiritual, emotional essence of the moment and of this week’s Torah portion, Bereshit. Reading the Torah’s description of Creation taught the Psalmist of Chapter 104 — as well my friend and me – -that God’s nurturing, vital presence is no place greater felt than in close intimate contact with God’s creation.
The Talmud goes even further, arguing that the Psalmist, in crying out, “Bless the Lord, O my soul” is teaching: “Just as the Holy One Blessed be He fills the whole earth, so too, the soul fills the entire body.”
In going out to nature, we not only find God in that external world, but we open up our own inner spiritual wells, and are completely nourished by them.
I was in a euphoric state listening to my friend read and awaken the spirit of the moment. He then read the psalm’s final verse, “Let sinners cease out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul, Halleluyah!”
An Abrupt Transition
An army of ants in my lunch or the gathering of a dark summer storm cloud could not have disturbed me more. I was connecting with God and my soul on this beautiful mountaintop. Why was the Psalmist bugging me about sinners and the wicked? I had left those worries behind in New York City.
Indeed, as I was to discover later on, Psalms is filled with such abrupt transitions from spiritual euphoria to calls for justice (see chapters 8 and 97 for examples). That day on my New Hampshire mountain, I had no explanation for the Psalmist’s concern for sinners and evil. But when I returned home, I encountered the commentary of Metsudat David on the last verse of Chapter 104:
…that sin should be no more; that is to say that people will conquer their destructive desire and will no longer sin; if so there will no longer be destructive doers of evil in the world.
This, says Metsudat David, is the ultimate prayer of the Psalmist who has found God in nature. Metsudat David sees this psalm as offering crucial, if sobering, advice.
Spiritual euphoria inspired by nature can be deceiving–it may lead you to think that all that matters is your experience on the mountaintop, encountering God. This spirituality misses the point. Nature’s beauty can be inspiring, but it must also teach you that much of the world is not this perfect, that there is great destruction and deep brokenness in need of repair and healing.
The mountaintop must compel you to pray — and work — for a better world.
We might quibble with Metsudat David’s formula for tikkun, or repair: the need for people to conquer their evil inclination. Our own prayers might include different methods for achieving tikkun. But as we each read of God’s creation this week and bring to mind our own mountaintop experiences, let those warm memories remind us that God wants us — needs us — to again and again come down from the mountain, inspired and strengthened, and get to work creating a more perfect world.
Reprinted with permission from SocialAction.com.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.