by Becky Schisler
October 17, 2009/29 Tishrei 5770
Bereishit, God created the heavens and the earth.
We’re all familiar with the story of creation. We are taught that God created the world in six days & darkness and light the first day, then the heavens, the land and sea, the sun, moon, and stars, animals, humans, and finally, on the 7th day, the Sabbath.
Initially, he created man as a lone being, but deciding that solitude is not good, took a “side” from the man, formed a woman, and married the two. These, as we all know, are Adam and Eve.
The parshah includes Adam and Eve’s partaking of the Tree of Knowledge and subsequent banishment from the Garden of Eden, which leads to a decree that man will experience death, and that all gain will come only through struggle and hardship. The parshah goes on to relate the story of Cain and Abel, and ends with the first mention of Noah, the only “righteous man in a corrupt world.”
As I was reading the parshah this past week, I noticed one reoccurring theme: the difference between humans and animals. Namely, we have intuition, intelligence, and the ability to appreciate God; animals have none of these things. We also have souls – we received the “divine kiss” from God when he breathed life into Adam. Animals did not. All of this reminded me of an incident that happened recently when I was teaching Sunday School for fifth graders at my synagogue.
The curriculum for this particular day must have been pulled right from Bereishit. I was teaching the class the difference between animals and humans, and that the life of a human is more important because our tradition teaches that animals don’t have souls. But when a child insists that his pet dog has a soul, how can I argue? Why would I want to? To me, that’s not what Judaism is about – teaching children that the lives of their animals are of minuscule importance in comparison to ours.
We then got into a discussion about what a soul is. I explained the best I could, spoke of something eternal, of ruach, the light of God inside of you, something that never dies. But how can I teach them something I’m not entirely sure of myself? One little boy offered the analogy that God is like a pizza pie, and a slice of that pizza is inside every one of us.
I liked that a lot. Sometimes, probably more often than we realize, we’re the ones who learn from those we teach.
Just something to think about this week.