Posts Tagged 'Bereshit'

Needing as a Blessing: Connecting,Covid-19, and Metzorah

In the beginning of Genesis, we read of the curses that God meted out to Adam, Eve, and the snake upon their violating the prohibition against eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam needs to work the land to get food. Eve will have pain in childbirth. The snake received the different punishment. There we read, “and the dust of the earth you shall eat all the days of your life.”( Genesis 3:14 ) The Hassidic master Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa asked why this punishment at all. Now the snake, by virtue of this curse, would be able to subside on dirt. This being the case, the snake would never have to work to obtain sustenance, as dirt is everywhere! This seems like more of a reward than a punishment.

Juxtaposed the snake, when a person is having difficulty sustaining themselves and will turn to God for help. While people have to endure hardship in order to achieve certain goals, they can turn to God to ask for assistance. Rav Simcha Bunim argues that God wants us to ask for help when we need it. The process of asking for help itself helps us to develop a bond between us and God. One should feel that he or she is asking a friend, someone who is close, caring, and willing to help. God wants a close bond to exist between us. In this way prayer is a way of creating and strengthening this bond.

Ironically, the snake is fortunate in that it has all of his needs provided for. It has nothing to ask of God and nothing for which to request God’s assistance. The curse for the snake is no reason to develop a relationship with God.

Woman finds giant snake - YouTube

I was thinking about this when reading Metzorah, this week’s Torah reading. Here we learn about a ton of maladies. Fear of COVID-19 has sparked a vigilance for various symptoms. Before this we have never been so attuned to all of the ailments, impurities, fevers and rashes in our lives. Spending so much time stuck at home has made us much more aware of what is and not coming into the house. Strangely Metzorah is more relevant then ever. There we read:

When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.” (Leviticus 14:35)

There is an interesting way in which we need to go to a priest to explore how to make meaning of the plague. There is an assumption that there must be meaning behind the plague and we cannot claim to  know what it is. Therefore we say that there is “something like a plague has shown itself to me”, without certainty (see Rashi there). We must seek connection with another person to make meaning out of this event.

We see that this plague mandates that people reach out to make a connection with a priest. In the spirit of the Rav Simcha Bunim’s lesson on the curse of the snake being its disconnection from God, the blessing of Metzorah is the connection to people. Needing is a good thing. It is the foundation for growth and connection.

Covid-19 and all of its variants has been horrible. We recently passed 6 million deaths due to this disease. But in light of this Torah portion, we see that another curse of Covid-19 is the compliancy and comfort we have developed for social isolation. Like Rav Simcha Bunim, Brené Brown, my Vulnerability Rebbe, writes:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

The question for us as we emerge from Covid-19 is if we will allow ourselves to express need, be vulnerable, and reach out to make human connections. That will surely be a blessing.

Lets’ Do This

Here we are again at the beginning of it all with the reading of Bereishit, this week’s Torah portion. Like every passing year I get sucked deeper into thinking about the story of the Garden of Eden. As a parent constantly tending the garden of my children’s education I am struck by the need in the story for setting limits. As we read:

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying: ‘Of every tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat from  it you shall surely die.’ 18 And the Lord God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help mate for him.'(Genesis 2:16-18)

Adam and Eve are two different people and have different experiences of the world. And sure enough this help mate and Adam eat of this fruit and that limit is breached. So with eating this fruit they also breach an absolute understanding of what is “good”. There is no longer the absolute of  truth and false, but rather relative categories of good and bad. Their eating of the fruit simultaneously gave birth to human mortality and human morality.

This brings to mind one of favorite and shortest TED talks. This talk is given by Damon Horowitz who teaches philosophy through the Prison University Project, bringing college-level classes to inmates of San Quentin State Prison. In this powerful short talk, he tells the story of an encounter with right, wrong, good, and bad that quickly gets personal. Please take the two minutes to watch this ( it is worth it and you will thank me):

In light of this talk we can see the direct line from Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden to the Mark of Cain. In many ways we all bear the burden of having to work to reestablish what is “good” in the world.  As Horowitz says, “But we are not here to trade opinions, everyone has an opinion. We are here for knowledge. Our enemy is thoughtlessness. This is philosophy.” His argument is beautiful in its simplicity. The project of philosophy is to help us turn or return to truth. In living the examined life we can reenter the Garden ( the always already there) unmarked by society. Tony and Horowitz discovered this in prison, a place in which the prisoner is locked in. It is our task to return to Eden a place from which we have been locked out. As we are starting off this new year, I want to echo Tony and Damon Horowitz’s words,” Let’s do this.” Who is in?


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