This Shabbat (Sabbath), many in the Jewish community are reflecting upon the rabbinic teachings connected to the weekly biblical reading of “B’reishit” (Genesis 1:1-6:8; Isaiah 42:5-21). The following is a reflection rooted in these. For more about the sources, please go to www.chabad.org.
The first word of the Torah is “B’reishit” which is translated as “in the beginning”. Traditional rabbinic commentary expounds upon the deeper significance of this word and what it can teach us about beginnings more broadly.
The first letter of this word is “bet” which is the second letter of the alphabet (alef + bet). This teaches us that all beginnings are rooted in what was before. It is our responsibility to learn from what was and journey forward.
What is before “bet”? The Hebrew letter “alef” which is silent. Sometimes the most important lessons are not loud, and the most powerful forces are not easily discernible. And yet, without them, there can be no “bet”.
This “silent” letter is nonetheless a letter… it represents the opening of the mouth… the ways in which a vowel attached to it can bring air and sound… to shift it from “alef” to “bet”. And so it is with every beginning: first, there must be an opening, then something to which one can connect, so that there is air and sound… and from this, we find ourselves making our way to something new…
The rabbis teach that the Torah is a blueprint for the universe… The spiritual symbolism of the “alef” and “bet” is filled with profound implications for each of us, seeking to find a way to live and love in this world that seems to have lost its way… veering off course so often that the route back to our deepest purpose seems shrouded and inscrutable.
And so how do we begin fresh? Is that even possible? How do we discern our purpose- that for which each of us has been created… that which will spark our souls with the burning fire of the heavens and renew our zest for life?
The first step is to realize that everything we see… everything we feel… all that is visible is “bet” – part of the created world that unfolded into other letters of the alphabet… further and further away from “alef”. Many religions express this truth by saying that all that we see is really an illusion. And indeed, the further away from our source we venture, the less connected we are to what is real.
From photoshopped pictures to staged public events to ghost written speeches, so much of what seems to animate this world seems contrived… and yet, how much energy do we expend on appearances, externals, things of this world?
The spiritual journey must begin by peeling off the layers… the labels that have been ascribed, the stories that have been repeated, the masks that are worn… finding our way back to “alef”… silence that can lead us back to a new beginning and a fresh start… silence that is rich and nourishing and that pours into the crevices of our heart and mind until we find ourselves opening…
Open… what would it be like to be truly open… open to the world… to others… to ourselves… the ways in which our soul is calling out to us… open to taking action to transform the call of Spirit into a new reality that will be filled with promise and hope…?
This coming week, let us take time to stop, to exhale- releasing the hold that reality has on us… let us exhale and pause, right before the inhalation, and feel the promise of that first new breath, breathing and letting it open us…
In what ways will Spirit call to each of us? What is the Call that will lead us back to our truest selves… Will it be a sign or an accident or an email from a long lost friend… will we recognize the Call or will we be so immersed in the world of letters and sounds that it will fall unheeded, as we get deeper enmeshed in the chaos that we have been taught to call “reality”?