We Begin with Genesis

We Begin with Genesis

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

When my son, Adam, was about 4 years old, our family was invited to join friends for Second Seder at their home. Just as the leader began to read the Haggadah, Adam turned to me and said quietly (thankfully), “We did this already!” This week, we read, again, from the beginning of Torah with the first words of Genesis, in Hebrew, Bereisheet. We did this already, too, but it’s our tradition to renew the cycle of Torah reading annually and for good reasons.

First, Torah is at the heart and soul of the Jewish person. What makes a person Jewish? To begin, knowledge of and commitment to the teachings of Torah makes a person Jewish. By itself, Torah is a Hebrew word that means “teaching.” As such, everything we read in Torah, from each letter, word, verse, and story, to the questions we ask and answer, are parts of the on-going process of learning from Torah. In the past, Torah was translated into Greek, where Torah became “nomos,” or law. While Torah is filled with many laws, Torah is not a law book; it’s a teaching that requires the best teachers and students to learn all about it.

Second, the Torah hasn’t changed since it was first committed to writing. But every generation of Jews has changed. Every generation has asked new or familiar questions and added insights and perspectives, some of which have been included in classic commentaries, while others became the stuff of legend and lore, and still others faded away. Whether we’re 13 or 83, every time we begin reading the Torah again, we bring a new perspective that comes with living. What questions do 13-year-olds ask on their way to becoming a bar or bat mitzvah? Their questions are simple, but sometimes insightful, because they’re just becoming aware of the world around them. What questions do 83-year-olds ask on their way to becoming a bar or bat mitzvah for the second time? Life lessons can’t be ignored when they open the Torah again and examine the answer to a timeless question like, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” which was asked of Cain by God in Genesis 4:9.

Third, when we commit ourselves to reading Torah with commentaries in the company of others or a study partner, we link ourselves to a sacred past with lessons for the future. In words and deeds, Torah lessons awaken us to what is called “tov me’od,”very good, by God (Genesis); what is “kadosh,” holy in God’s eyes (Leviticus); and what is “in our mouths, in our hearts, and our hands to do,” because Torah and being Jewish are linked (Deuteronomy).

At Congregation Beth Israel, Torah learning begins in childhood, but as Rabbi Karff z’l, used to say, “Judaism is too precious to leave to our children, alone, to learn.” Its precious wisdom is for us who are seekers of wisdom. To engage in Torah learning, come to Torah study on Shabbat morning at 9:45am in the Finger Boardroom, in-person or on Zoom; join a Torah study BINGE group on Fridays; or inquire about other learning opportunities. Learning and living Torah can be a meaningful way to start the New Year even if, as my son said years ago, “We did this already!” Yes, and let’s do it again.


We Begin with Genesis 3