This week we read in the Torah of the creation of our natural world and ultimately the creation of humanity in God’s image. According to the Torah we are viewed as not just a “good” part of creation, but one that is uniquely “tov m’od”, “very good” amongst God’s array of creatures and living things. God’s empowering us to think freely and make independent choices is a critical factor in God choosing us to act as God’s surrogates in tending to the world around us. In effect, at least according to one version of the creation story, God makes humanity as the crown of creation and then recedes into the background to let us do God’s work. Dwelling in the Garden of Eden, it’s hard to imagine that Adam and Eve would have felt like they had a big job to do; after all, this was effectively paradise at the outset. But after Adam and Eve slip up and eat the fruit from the forbidden tree, they are cast out of the Garden and into the real world, so to speak. The expectation of immortality gives way to an unpredictably finite lifespan, and life becomes messy instead of simple. Even the blessing of bringing new life into the world will be taxing and painful for humans, explains God.
At first glance, one might think the expulsion from the Garden and these related developments would be a bad thing for humanity and for the world. But I would suggest that, in fact, it was quite a positive development for humankind and for the world as a whole. We cannot live out God’s vision and values and Torah in a vacuum, a bubble, a version of paradise. If we were created to impact the world around us, then we most certainly had to have the chance and the obligation to interact with that imperfect world around us and then make choices that would hopefully reflect positively on us as God’s agents. We can’t just learn Torah (broadly speaking, in the sense of Jewish values, ethics and laws) for the purpose of sitting in classrooms or in idyllic gardens holding on to that information. We have to experience a lived Torah, one whose messages speak to choices big and small we make every day and every week as our lives intersect with the world. To that end, once again this year here in our community we are making a concerted effort to offer adult education courses and programs that take Torah in and out of the building, that ground us in foundational concepts of Judaism (e.g. Intro to Judaism) teach us synagogue skills (Synagogue Skills and Adult B’nai Mitzvah classes), that have us grapple with serious and thought-provoking life questions framed with a Jewish lens (Torah on Tap), explore Jewish ethics (Pirkei Avot) and engage with significant ethical dilemmas in our world (The Ethical Life), and illuminate the words of the Written and Oral Torah (Tuesdays with Tanakh, Women’s Torah Study, Thursdays with the Rabbis) through fresh modern perspectives and lenses. We hope you will consider participating in one (or many!) of these valuable adult education opportunities and, moreover, that you’ll emerge from these experiences looking for new ways to bring that Torah and those values with you into your home, your workplace, your relationships, and even the most ordinary of your daily encounters.
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share