Parashah of the week: Bereshit

“Now the Lord God took the man, and He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it” Genesis 2:15


A torah (Hebrew scripture) reading. The "yod" - a hand-shaped silver pointer - is used by the reader to mark his or her place in the text.

This week we restart the annual Torah cycle with Bereshit. There is an incredible midrash on the book of Ecclesiastes that could have been written by a present-day environmentalist.

When God created Adam, he took him around the whole Garden of Eden, explaining how he made it so beautiful especially for him and his family. God then instructed Adam, saying, “See My works, how beautiful and balanced they are, and all I created, I created for you… but be careful that you don’t damage or destroy My world for if you ruin it there will be no one to repair it after you.”

This midrash fits with tikkun olam, repairing the world. The phrase comes from the Aleinu prayer, which we recite three times a day (and at the height of the service on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). It speaks of our obligation “to establish the world with God’s kingship”.

The Hebrew word for establishing is letaken, which also means “to fix or repair”. Tikkun olam means “fixing or repairing the world”, making good that which is not. While it derives from a religious imperative, it is a core theme of Judaism which propels many varieties of social activism in different spheres of life.

In broad terms, tikikun olam means leaving the world in a better state than you found it.

The Talmud also tells us “Of all that God created in His world, He did not create one thing that is useless.” Everything has its place, its role in tikkun olam, in fixing and enhancing the world, and when society wastes that which God has created we are acting against His purpose for our being.

The Talmud relates that a certain righteous man once encountered another man planting a carob tree. “How long will it take to bear fruit?” he inquired. “About 70 years,” the man replied. “So you think you will live long enough to taste its fruits?” The man explained, “I have found ready-grown carob trees in the world. As my forefathers planted them for me, so I plant for my children.”

There is no question that the choices we make today in the environmental arena have long-reaching consequences for tomorrow. We can choose to destroy the future through our carelessness today, or plant for the future through care and sensitivity to the world around us.

This year’s sidrah columnists for 5784 are:

Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg, Woodford Forest (United) Synagogue

Rabbi Danny Rich, Southgate Progressive Synagogue

Rabbi Daniel Silverstein runs the website Applied Jewish Spirituality

Rebbetzin Shuli Liss, Highgate (United) Synagogue

Rabbi Kathleen de-Magtige Middleton, Mosaic Reform Community, Stanmore

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