Listen to the audio version
1. Genesis/Bereshit: GOOD
What’s the most important word of Torah? My friend John asks me this while we stand together in front of the open ark just a few days ago back in Manhattan, on Simchat Torah. He is holding on to his elegant-as-always mother-in-law’’s wheelchair while I carry my youngest daughter and all four of us reach out across four generations to kiss the scrolls as they pass by.
I didn’t have a good answer but he’s got it figured out: it’s two words really – strung together – KI TOV – “It is good’. And just like that he gives me the idea for this new weekly blog. And here we go. Again.
This coming Saturday the oldest sacred re-run series will restart, as countless scrolls all over the world will roll to the beginning, willing worlds to be created by the mystery of the word. For me, it’s an opportunity to begin another year long journey of discipline, self discovery and learning, tracing a well worn path, finding new meanings in the ancient words.
Each week I hope to focus on a single word from the Torah portion – a word that will wink, and make me think, and echo who I am and what I need to learn. I hope it will be meaningful to me – and to others, building a vocabulary and offering a few weekly moments of perspective and new tools for better being.
So thanks to John we start with ‘good’, which appears 14 times in the first three chapters of Genesis. But it’s not that simple, and it’s not the same sort of good. There’s perhaps a difference here between what we call ‘good’ and what is ‘good enough’.
The first ‘good’ in the Torah is right at the start: Day one, lights go on, Creator, hand still on the light switch, nods with approval: it’s looking good. Most of the creations that complete the world receive this sweeping approval from the artist – good job on the moon, well done with the humans. We’re good to go.
But then there’s the other and more complicated good. By the time this word makes it to the second version of creation in chapter 2 it is no longer a simple thumbs up – it is a concept attached at the hip to its twin shadow – no-good, or ‘bad’. Suddenly we get that not everything is perfect in paradise. Even Creator gets it – looking down at the loneliness of the solitary Adam and naming that all alone angst as ‘not good’ – and in need of a solution – and a mate. This evolution into the complicated dual brings about the fall from grace.
As soon as our ancestors bite from the binary fruit of the tree of good and bad we’ve crossed a corner into a less mythic and more familiar world of choices, consequences, pains and gains. The innocence is left behind and life begins for real.
John meant, I think, that the most important words in Torah are the ‘It’s good’ of the first chapter but it’s the more complex good of the latter chapters that I take to heart. Perhaps because I want to remind myself of the original capacity for wide eyed appreciation of all the goodness even when the other side of life creeps in and rains on my parade.
This week’s intention – focus more on what is good and thumbs-up worthy. Stop the nay say in its tracks. Maybe even say it, to myself or someone else, upon achievement – very good! and mean it.
Words make worlds and matter more than we sometimes realize.
“At the end of the day” John said, as he rolled the wheelchair away, “appreciating what’s good in any situation is all that really matters.”
And now I’m in Jerusalem, getting ready for the first Sabbath during this year of studies and long distance and lots of good and many questions and I’m happy to begin again. And it’s as good as it gets, and it’s good enough. For now.