Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat Bereshit: S/He Who Spoke and Humanity Came to Be

0 Comments 10 October 2017

In his Dvar Torah to Parashat Bereshit, Dr. Shaiya Rothberg challenges us to think deeply and honestly about what it truly means to be humans created in the image of God.

Palestinian village of Susya, currently under the threat of demolition and forced displacement

Palestinian village of Susya, currently under the threat of demolition and forced displacement

In Parashat Bereshit we touch on the roots of creation, the essence of being. This feels right after our attempt during the Yamim Hanoraim to take stock, purify ourselves, and set out towards life with renewed energies. And just as we begin, we meet the creation of the world in Parashat Bereshit. I feel as if the Parasha cries out to us, “Read me carefully! The secret of this book is found in its beginnings, where the author reveals Her/His intentions!”

In answer to that call, I want to focus on the idea that God created humanity in God’s image, from a new angle, or at least new to me. Rabbi Ovadia Sforno emphasizes in his introduction to the Torah that the importance of the appearance of this idea in our Parasha is not to communicate a fact, but to change how humans think about themselves. In other words, what’s important is that human beings know that they are in God’s image.

I ask myself: What must happen so that humans know they are in God’s image? The first thing is that there must be creatures who think they are humans. If not, what “humans” can know that “they” are in God’s image? This might sound easy, but it is not. For example, if we are really human, then the answer to the question, “Who kidnapped and murdered these three boys?”, will always be, “We – human beings – we kidnapped and murdered them.” And if we ask, “Who destroyed all these villages?”, the answer is, “We human beings destroyed them”. If deep inside we believe that they kidnapped and murdered our boys, we didn’t do it, then the bulldozers are already on their way to destroy new life. The lack of human identity is the head of the snake who kidnaps, murders and destroys.

The village of Susya seems like it was invented by the Occupation to highlight the utter rejection of faith which is the root of Israel’s regime of dispossession in the West Bank. Our Jewish ears are deaf to Palestinian voices, so God conjured up two Israeli government experts, Pliah Albeck in 1982 and Moshe Meiri in 2015, to verify Palestinian ownership. And to save us from sin, God furthered organized a whole series of Jewish Israelis to verify that Susya’s residents have lived on their land for generations. If after all this the State of Israel seeks to destroy the village, as the Defense Minister promises, then only one answer is possible: We have renounced our humanity. The snake of racism – that heresy that rips the roots of the Torah’s “Image of God” from creation itself – has raised its head to strike.

We pray that Susya will not be destroyed. But we destroy homes like those in Susya regularly. As if possessed by a demon, we send our children, Amos, Binyamin and Yotam, to guard the bulldozers as they trample the gardens and water pipes on their way to demolish new homes; and as the crash of the roof shatters our children’s world, we draw them close, Mahmud, Fatma and Jihad; and through our tears we promise them things we don’t have the power to deliver; and the lies bring pain, and the unleashed evil destroying our homes fills us with hate; and we swear in God’s name that in blood and in fire we will have vengeance, on ourselves, for all the horror that we inflict upon us.

And so it goes until one day we will read the first chapter of Bereshit and internalize what there is written. And on that day, we will become human, and we will form one fellowship to do the will of S/He who shall drive corrupt government from the earth, like we prayed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And on that day, we will know that God created us – all human beings – in God’s own image.

Dr. Shaiya Rothberg teaches Jewish Thought at the USCJ Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

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