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It’s all About Communication
Parshat Bereishit 5780

There is a time in every baby’s life when they are smart enough to want to communicate with the outside world, but not smart enough to communicate with the outside world. This creates enormously vexing situations. Lil’ baby Numzi wants to drink wine from Daddy’s big shiny Kiddush cup, she makes clear motions indicating her desires, and daddy is not giving it to her.

Of course if Numzi were an adult, I would explain to her that there is a hydroxyl group in the CH3CH2OH molecules of ethanol in the wine. This hydroxyl group has an undesirable agonistic affect on the GABA receptors in her central nervous system. That explanation is usually enough to make most adults stay away from too much wine, (and often that explanation even makes adults stay away from me!).

If Numzi were a five year old, I would just explain to her that she can’t have wine “Because Daddy said so,” an oddly satisfying explanation to a five year old child who needs structure and borders in his or her life. But when Numzi is in that delicate stage between expression and comprehension, we find ourselves stuck in a quagmire of misunderstandings, mixed signals, and disharmony.

I clearly remember having one of those situations, but in a particularly ironic fashion. It was in middle of Chol Hamoed, the intermediate days of Succot, and my wife was busy cooking for the endless stream of meals that come out of the kitchen on Succos. In temple times, seventy bulls were offered over the course of Succos on the altar, and in modern times, I think just as many came out of our kitchen. While I’m entirely useless in a kitchen, I do try to help my wife by getting the children out of her hair for a few hours.

I had the older children playing games with their cousins, but stir-crazy Numzi kept getting in the way. I decided to take her with me when I went out to buy some last-minute items. I actually love taking Numzi places, there’s something infectious and delicious about a whole human being wrapped in a tiny package. She is a four-senses-pleaser, she looks adorable, she has a whole soundtrack of sounds and gurgles that make my heart jump, she smells that unmistakable sweet/weird/comforting baby smell, and she has cheeks softer than cashmere that are oh-so fun to knip. Taking her shopping sounded great…

I began the car seat ritual. Numzi, like most people, doesn’t like to be strapped down to anything, especially when it immobilizes most of her body. The only way to get her strapped in without too much fuss is by giving her the keys to distract her while you do it. Numzi is fascinated by keys. She tries to eat them, she pushes the buttons on the remote, she clanks them around noisily. So I give her the keys, and while she’s chewing thoughtfully on them, I slip one arm in the car seat harness, then another, I clip the two leg restraints into place, and voila! we’re done!

But this time, we ran into a new problem. Numzi didn’t want to give up the keys, and started screaming when I tried to take them, but she also clearly wanted to get rolling. She kept making the “Let’s go!” motion with her dictatorial little hand, but she also wouldn’t let go of the keys.

If she were an adult, I would explain to that I need the key to begin the ignition sequence. The key turns, it tells the onboard computer to fill the engine cylinders with a squirt of fuel, and then create a spark. That spark ignites the fuel-air mixture in the cylinder of the engine, pushing the pistons down, and spinning the crankshaft that makes the wheels turn. If she was a five year old, I would give her the whole “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” lecture, (either one of those lectures will get you the keys, but not a lot of friends).

But Numzi is in between expression and comprehension. She can motion to me that I should go, she can get frustrated when I don’t, but she can’t comprehend that it is actually she who is holding the keys to our movement in her hands. A little bit of verbal communication would go a long way. It’s vexing to say the least.

When this episode happened, I understood a tiny bit of what it must feel like to be G-d. To G-d, most of us must be caught somewhere between expression and comprehension. We all want to move forward. We want to improve our lives, health, business and relationship. We wave our hands impatiently, getting frustrated when things don’t go our way. But we fail to recognize that the key to our success, prayer, is in our hands. Sometimes, G-d can be more than ready to move us forward, but the key needed to spark the ignition sequence, prayer, needs to be turned over by us in order to start the process.

We see this right in the beginning of the Genesis story (which will be read this Shabbos). After the basic infrastructure of the world was created, the Torah tells us (Genesis, 2:5):

“Now no tree of the field was yet on the earth, neither did any herb of the field yet grow, because the Lord God had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil.”

You might have a few questions. Didn’t the Torah say that all the vegetation had been created on the third day of creation? What type of work is being described here? What type of work brings rain? Rashi explains:

Neither did any herb of the field yet grow: [I.e.,] had not yet grown. And on the third day, where it is written: “Let the earth bring forth vegetation,” the plants had not yet emerged, but they stood at the entrance of the ground until the sixth day. And why?

“Because the Lord G-d had not caused it to rain: Because there was no man to work the soil, and no one recognized the benefit of rain, but when man came and understood that they were essential to the world, he prayed for them, and they fell, and the trees and the herbs sprouted.”

The Sages explain that until Adam came along and prayed, all the blessing, all the vegetation was just below the surface, patiently waiting for man to work his magic, to pray for it. When he did it immediately sprang forth and sprouted.

This is what happens with our personal blessings as well, explain the Sages. There can be tremendous storehouses of good fortune waiting for us, sitting patiently below the surface, waiting for us to work our magic, waiting for us to simply open our mouths and hearts and sincerely ask G-d for His assistance. As soon as we do, He will gladly shower us with blessing, causing our success to sprout before our eyes. But we need to make the first move.[1]

I know sometimes I fall in that slot between expression and comprehension. I express what I want, I work hard for it, I even get frustrated if I don’t get it. But I don’t comprehend how powerful the keys in my hands are.

I forget that prayer is what gets the spark ignited. Prayer is what gets the engine of blessing firing on all cylinders! A little bit of verbal communication goes so far…

 

Parsha Dvar Torah

This Parsha is the most fundamental of all Parshios. Just as every physical trait a person has is coded in his DNA at the moment of conception, so too, the summation of the human experience is coded in this week’s Parsha, Bereishit. One could spend an entire year studying this Parsha and its copious commentary, and still not finish even a fraction of what it contains. In it we find; Creation, the first man and woman, the first sin, the first Repentance, the first murder, the first degeneration of society as a whole, and much more. But perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this Parsha is the first sin.

G-d put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and gave them everything they could possibly need (it was always spring weather, food grew ready to be eaten on trees, there was no sickness…). G-d spoke to them (an incredible experience in its own right), and requested only one thing of them: Don’t eat from the fruit of one tree. Yet, before their first day was over, they disobeyed G-d! How can we understand this original error which impacted the world more fundamentally than any other single action in history?

One way to understand Adam’s mistake is to realize that he thought he knew a better way to serve G-d, even though G-d indicated otherwise. Adam felt that to serve G-d simply by not eating a single species of fruit, in a place where G-d’s presence was palpable, was not the most he could do. He was capable of sacrificing so much more for G-d! He was willing and able to serve G-d in a world shrouded in darkness, where it would be much more difficult to see G-d and appreciate the importance of serving Him. Adam knew that if he ate from the fruit of the tree, it would be like turning off a celestial light switch, and G-d’s presence in the world would become much more hidden as a result of sin which had entered the universe. Certain that he could still serve G-d in such a difficult world, and confident that it would result in a far greater glorification of G-d, Adam ate the forbidden fruit.

But this was a colossal error, one that until today continues to challenge us! The truth is that when a person thinks like that, he is using his ego and believing that he know better than G-d. G-d said serve me by doing X, but I say that I can serve you better by doing Y. The truth is that there can be no greater service of G-d than doing exactly what He asks from us!

Today, we find this idea particularly difficult. We try to tell ourselves that G-d didn’t really mean that we should do everything he asked of us in the Torah, or that if He would see the modern world, He would certainly cancel a number of the “outdated” mitzvot. We feel like we can decipher what He really wants of us. The truth is that if we want to serve G-d, and not ourselves, we have to lower our ego, trust that He knows best, and realize that the best way to serve Him is to follow what He asks, not what we think He should have asked! If we do that, we will be able to reverse the effects of the primordial sin and bring the world back to the utopia it was before sin arrived on the scene!

 

Parsha Summary

Breishit starts off with the Creation of the Universe and all that is in it. G-d completed all His work in six days (this was way before zoning laws and building codes). Here is a quick rundown on the daily creating schedule for those first six days. On the first day He created light and darkness. On the second He created the heavens and separated the lower waters (oceans, which at that time covered the globe), from the upper waters i.e. the water found in the atmosphere.

On the third day G-d pulled the waters back to reveal dry land and created all vegetation (yup, Tuesday is when cauliflower, sprouts, and lima beans appeared on Mother Earth). On the fourth day G-d created all the celestial bodies, including the sun, moon, and all the stars. On day five G-d created all the flying creatures and water-based creatures. He even blessed them that they should multiply and be fruitful.

The sixth day of creation is special because not only did G-d create all animals of the land on that day, He also created mankind in His image. This special gift gives us an infinite amount of abilities that are unique to man, such as the ability to create, to give to strangers (generally, animals only take care of their own), and the power of speech. On the seventh day G-d ceased from all the work that He had done, and in order to emulate G-d we also rest on the Shabbos, and spend that time evaluating our week and seeing how we can grow in the coming one.

G-d obviously didn’t need the rest, He didn’t feel worn out from a week of creation, but rather for us he ceased to work to help us understand the concept that there are two distinct modalities, working toward a goal, and experiencing the goal. Shabbos is a time where we experience the arrival at the spiritual locus of our week, and we can experience it fully, while still engaged in the creative process.

When G-d created Adam (the first human being), He gave him everything he needed and only asked one thing of him – that he not eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man gave names to all the beasts and found no mate. After this experience, which taught man that without women he is totally lost, G-d created Eve (the first woman) out of one of Adam’s ribs. G-d didn’t create woman out of Adam’s head, lest she feel she could dominate him, nor out of his feet, lest he feel he could trample her. Instead, He created her out of his rib, right next to his heart, so that he would protect her, love her, and treat her with equality.

While still enjoying their honeymoon, Adam and Eve were led into sin by the serpent, which was the external representation of evil at that time. Through a manipulation technique still used by sleazy salesmen today, the snake enticed both Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. G-d punished them by making humans mortal, by giving women birthing pains and by forcing men to work for their sustenance (prior to that fully prepared pastries would grow on trees! Weight Watchers would have had a real crisis!)

Adam and Eve gave birth to two children, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. They both decided to give gifts to G-d but, while Cain gave inferior fruit, Abel gave the best of his flocks. G-d accepted only Abel’s gift. (Quick lesson: G-d wants you to mean it when you give to Him, so save your week-old pancakes for your brother, and give to G-d with all your heart. He doesn’t need a lot, but He wants to see you putting up your best effort!).

Cain got angry and jealous, and quickly became the world’s first murderer by killing his brother. Back then there were no good trial lawyers, and Cain had to deal directly with G-d, who didn’t take his excuses but rather told him that there are two paths one can take after sin – repent and be forgiven or don’t improve yourself and sin will constantly hound you.

The Torah then goes on to mention the ten generations of mankind from Adam until Noah. After that description, the Torah tells us how human beings lost all morality, and people did whatever they pleased. It got so bad that soon only Noah was righteous from his whole generation. Next week, will tell us more about where the world went (hint: think underwater) and more about Noah (hint: think above water), but before we stop, one last tidbit about Noah: he invented the plow, thus saving mankind billions of man-hours in the field planting by hand!

Quote of the Week: Fall- when every leaf is a flower!

Random Fact of the Week: Your thumbnail grows slower than any other fingernail!

Funny line of the week: How come wrong numbers are never busy?

Have a Stupendous Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

[1] The Mystics explain that G-d created the physical world as a mirror image of the internal spiritual world. In the physical world, all biological growth comes out of the instructions of enzymes and protein which operate with a lock and key model. This is because in the spiritual world, all blessing and growth requires a lock and key model, and the key to all blessing is prayer.

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