Sunday, October 14, 2012



        After Hurricane Wilma, we were given our own B’reishis; an opportunity to light our darkened world.



The beginning of a new world: A blank slate with the chance to make a real impact.  Into that setting the first man was placed with enormous opportunity. We, on the other hand, are stuck. Hardened by habit; molded by the environment. If only we had the opportunity that Adam had...but alas those heady days are long gone.

“In the beginning...the world was in an astonishing state of void, emptiness, and darkness.” Sound familiar? Seen your neighborhood recently? Perhaps things haven’t changed all that much. Maybe our prospects for good are no less incredible. That is what the Sages meant when they taught that every person is obligated to feel as if, “The world was created for me.” This is not pride or haughtiness, but a new opportunity and greater responsibility. We are each given our own B’reishis; to fill our present void and emptiness, to light our darkened world.                                                                                              

Since Torah is a never-ending continuum, there arose a custom of homiletically connecting the end of the Torah to its beginning. The Torah’s final words are, “Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses... as evidenced by the signs and wonders... and by the awesome power that Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel.”  Rashi explains: “Before the eyes of all Israel refers to Moses shattering the two Tablets after descending from Mount Sinai.  It is on this note of seeming despair that the Torah ends. The Torah then begins again with a more promising description of the world’s creation.                                                           

Have you ever noticed how little time it takes to destroy even the most majestic of structures? It’s almost depressing. In come the wrecking crews, or the hurricane, and in a matter of hours the work of years or even decades is laid waste. While creation is a painstakingly slow and arduous process, destruction is swift.

It’s all very well to break down that which is faulty. And it’s true that the breaking of the Tablets was the first step in recognizing our national sin. But broken Tablets do not a life make. Subsequently, we must begin the painstaking process of building anew. So immediately after the destruction of the Tablets the Torah continues with, “In the beginning, G-d created...”                                          

Rosh Hashana may have brought to light some of our flaws, and hopefully Yom Kippur breast-beatings, and Simchas Torah Hakofos-stompings shattered a few of those.  But Genesis promises us a new beginning.                   But we, who are so far removed from the world’s early years,  can this truly be expected from us? Adam’s two sons now, they must have had that clarity of mission.  So what does the Torah say about Cain the farmer and Abel the shepherd?                                                           

“And it was miketz yamim (at the end of days), Cain brought an offering from the produce of the land (pishtan-flax). Abel also brought an offering from the first-born of his flock. Hashem accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s...”  Although the verses don’t explicitly reveal at the end of which days this episode took place, the Kli Yakar offers the following insight: The two brothers were at philosophical odds as to what was the purpose of man’s life. Cain believed that there was no World to Come. Success in this world was the sole measuring stick of man. He therefore chose to work the earth as it represented the only reality.  Abel, however believed that there was a future world that offered another, and higher, reality. He thus chose to be a shepherd, affording himself the solitude necessary for introspection and personal growth.                                                   Cain, true to his philosophy of life, had great difficulty spending his assets on spiritual pursuits. The party of life was still going on. But, as he grew older and began to slow down, or as the Torah formulates it, “Miketz yamim,” as he was nearing the end of his life, “Cain brought an offering.”  But, even at this point, what did he bring? The cheaper produce, the pishtan (flax). In contrast, Abel brought his best.                        

It is fascinating to note that the last letter of each of the letters that spell out the word korbon(קרבן) /sacrifice (koof’s last letter is pay, the end of reish is shin, of beit is tof, and of nune is nune) spells pishtan (פשתן)/flax. Even at the end, Cain was only willing to give from the bottom of the barrel. A case of too little, too late.                  

One Sukkot holiday, South Florida was pummeled by Hurricane Wilma. Damage, although not extreme, was extensive. While the communities we live in were awash with downed trees, our little shtetel was awash with kindness and sharing. Shared meals in hastily constructed sukkahs, uplifting hakafos by candlelight, police cars offering us safe escort as we walked home from evening services in the total darkness, congregants coming together to shlepp heavy branches, farbrengens by candlelight, neighbors bringing  lanterns, extra food, even generators...all prove that we may have lost electricity, but we never lost our power.

What an auspicious beginning! From the very darkness produced by the hurricane, light more brilliant than ever brought forth by FPL shone its way from people’s hearts into other people’s homes. We gave our best, not our leftovers, and definitely not our pishtan! Let’s build our universe together.

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