Saturday, October 13, 2012

Parashat Bereishit

            There’s a popular video now on YouTube called “First World Problems Anthem.” It’s put out by, is a collection of people in third world countries reciting complaints often heard here in America, and is meant to remind us how dumb and ungrateful we often are, in the hopes of encouraging us to donate toward clean water resources for these people with real problems. Some of the people in the video are smiling or look bored, although I can’t tell if it’s because they are truly appreciating the irony or if it’s because they don’t understand the English, but there is one woman in particular who looks like she understands the irony and hates us for it, as she recites the line, “I hate when my neighbors block their Wifi.” The look on her face, the disgust or despair that this is even a sentence, is very sobering.
            This is not to say that there is no such thing as a real problem in the first world, but so often we do take for granted so much of what we have, without considering how or why it exists for us.  This week, since we are reading B’reishit, let’s take a minute and reflect on creation. Whether you believe that creation was a completely random act of particle explosion, or carefully formed by G-d, or some combination of the two, believing in science being dictated by Divine Intelligence, none of it is really about us. In the Torah, G-d creates heavens and earth, separates light from darkness, separates water from dry land, creates the sun, moon, and stars, and creates vegetation, then animals, and lastly humans. At no point does the Torah say, “And G-d saw that this would be good for humans.” It just says, “And G-d saw that this was good.” The Torah does not even say this about humans, really. After most creations, G-d acknowledges their goodness: 4. And God saw the light that it was good, 10. And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters seas, and God saw that it was good, 12. And the earth gave forth vegetation, seed yielding herbs according to its kind, and trees producing fruit, in which its seed is found, according to its kind, and God saw that it was good, etc. After creating humans, G-d blessed them, instructed them to watch over everything else, to be fruitful and multiply, and then G-d steps back and 31. And God saw all that G-d had made, and behold it was very good. There’s another whole d’var Torah on why G-d did not say that the creation of humans was good by itself, but for now let’s just focus on the fact that clearly, the universe is not all about us. It’s not all about us as humans, and it is certainly not all about us in the first world and our problems such as “I hate when I ask for no pickles, and they still give me pickles.”
            According to the Talmud (Chulin 60b), we’re not alone in our whining. When G-d created the great luminaries, initially the sun and moon were the same size, but the Moon said, “Can two kings wear the same crown?” And G-d saw that the moon was right, so G-d made the Moon smaller and left the sun to brighten our days. Rashi expands this Talmudic idea, by explaining that because the moon was upset to have to be the one to diminish, G-d created the stars to be its entourage. My first world guilt is comforted by this story. We all may complain about silly things, and need to have our egos diminished or have things put into perspective, but when that happens we may be compensated with more friends and brighter surroundings. May we focus on the positive, appreciate all that we have, and try to help others access essential creations, such as food and water, so that we can all have a better world. And may G-d see that this is very good. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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