And God Saw That It Was Good

This is a commentary on Torah portion Bereshit, Genesis 1:1 – 6-8, and was originally published in the Washington Jewish Week.

After the High Holy Days and after Sukkot and Simchat Torah, after reading about the death of Moses, we begin again. We begin our new year and we begin to read Torah again. Carolyn Gage has a poem which captures this feeling. Here is an excerpt:

We begin wherever we can.

We begin in our thoughts… in our choices about

how we will use what privilege we have.

We begin by talking about it.

We begin with awareness.

We begin over and over and over.

We begin by listening…

And beginning is no small thing.

This is how I approach Torah. Every year, I endeavor to listen to the text anew. This year I noticed that Torah also begins with a beginning, “When God began to create heaven and earth.” I then kept hearing the words, “…and God saw that it was good.” This refrain echoes through the first story of creation six times and concludes with “…God saw all that He had made, behold; it was very good”. (Genesis 1:31). Now this is not the usual reaction to all of creation from humans. For instance, on day five, God creates the great sea monsters (Genesis 1:21). I don’t think most humans think of creatures such as sharks as being “good”. But God does. Or – all those creeping creatures and creatures that swarm – how many of us view snakes, spiders, mosquitoes and ants as “good”?

Our rabbis were aware of this tendency in humans and wrote about it also: “Even those things which you may regard as completely superfluous to the creation of the world, such as fleas, gnats and flies, even they too are included in the creation of the world, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, carries out His purpose through everything, even through a snake, a scorpion, a gnat, or a frog (Midrash Rabbah, Bereshit). These musing on the goodness of the world brought me to remember what we humans are doing to God’s creation. In our arrogance and ignorance, we think we know which species can be eliminated, usually causing a chain of events we had no intention of causing. In our never-ending desire for comfort and convenience, we are bringing on unprecedented climate change with drastic and unpredictable effects.

But we are not powerless. We can change and have already made some important changes. We have cleaned up rivers that were once polluted. We have banned chemicals that were causing a hole in the ozone layer. And over 300,000 thousand humans recently marched in the streets of New York City to raise their voices asking the governments of the world to take action on climate change. But there is much more we can and need to do. If we truly take Torah seriously, as a guide to living and we want to “walk in God’s ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9), then we need to see ALL of creation as good. This will lead to some immediately beneficial steps. We can stop using insecticides and pesticides in our homes and yards, thus seeing all living creatures as good. We can walk and bike more, combine our necessary car trips and carpool, thus preserving the atmosphere. We can refrain from using paper products that contain chlorine, thus preserving the waterways. We can join organizations working to preserve God’s creation such as Interfaith Power and Light, or the newly forming Jewish Green Council.

Joelle Novey, Director of Interfaith Power and Light adds “Have your home audited and weatherized. Shift your diet to include less meat.”

Rabbi Arthur Waskow suggests “changing your source of energy to wind instead of coal, move your money from a bank that invests in Big Oil to one that invests in your neighborhood and write a letter to your Congress member supporting EPA’s effort to restrict CO2 emissions from coal power plants.”

If we all work together and take as many steps as we can, then I believe we will be able to look on all that God has created and say with God, “Behold: it is very good”.

Questions for discussion:

What is a place in nature, or an aspect of nature that you love?

What is one of God’s creations that until now, you have not seen as “good”? Do you think you can shift your thinking on this?

What are some things you are already doing to help save and preserve the world?

What is one more thing you can do?