Parshat Bereshi

Torah Reading for Week of October 19-25, 2008

The Divine Formula of ‘Give and Take’

by Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, PhD, AJRCA President

“In the beginning G-d created Heaven and Earth.” The Rabbis of the Midrash comment that the Hebrew name for heaven ‘Shawmayim’ consists of two different words, meaning “laden with water” (“sha mayim” and “taoon mayim”). In this opening verse of the Torah, the text does not merely state the fact of G-d’s creation of Heaven and Earth. The Torah imparts to us a vital principle which is both relevant and applicable to our daily lives.

Here we have Heaven and Earth, two diametrically opposed spheres. Yet, right from the start, in the divine plan of creation, G-d ordained that both of them should work harmoniously together in a circulating pattern of ‘Give and Take.’ For Scientists tell us that vapor and steam evaporate from lakes, seas and oceans, combine with the dust of the earth and then are drawn up and taken by the Heavens to form clouds. The clouds then burst and Heaven gives back to Earth the rain which is so vital to all growth and plant life; a ‘Give and Take’ formula. Heaven takes but it also gives; Earth too, gives and takes.

When G-d created Adam, it was explained to him that he could not rely solely on the elements of nature such as air, wind, rain, and sun, to miraculously cause the soil to yield a harvest of food. He could not only take. Instead, he was commanded, ‘L’avda U’l’shamra.’ He must nurture the soil and work it. He must give to it his energy; he must give to it his constant care. Again, we see the divine formula of ‘Give and Take.’

What is one of the greatest blessings that humankind has always yearned, prayed and hoped for? Is it not peace? One of our most pressing concerns today is the intense strife between nations that exhibit an openness to modernity vs. those that prefer the values of fundamentalism. This threatens the balance and tranquility of the world and seems to be an interminable conflict. Yet, when we analyze the meaning of peace and the factors contributing towards its fulfillment, we come to the conclusion that at the root of the conflict is an inability to find a balance between giving and taking; between rigidly holding on to all that we wish to preserve vs. sacrificing and compromising. When nations are willing to live by the G-d ordained formula of ‘Give and Take’ then we can potentially have peace. However, when any nation expects her sister nation to do all the giving, while she only wants to be on the receiving end, when a nation is incapable of seeing the reality of the other, but can only focus on its own needs, then the dreams and hopes for peace become a distant reality.

As individuals, how much happier our lives would be if we accepted the significant lesson of ‘Give and Take’ that G-d intended us to learn from the beginning of the Torah. How many marriages could be saved? How many more and truer friends would we have if we learned to act towards each other in the spirit of ‘Give and Take?’ How much inner peace could we find if we identified and accepted these opposite energies within ourselves, rather than deny them out of shame and guilt, and if we allowed for their expression and creative integration?

How much misery and poverty could be avoided if those of us who are in the fortunate position of being able to take from the blessings on Earth would realize that we must also give? That we must share some of those G-d given blessings with others less fortunate than ourselves, for fundamentally B’reishit teaches us that we are all brothers and sisters related through our common ancestry, our primeval father Adam, one family descended from a common parentage, of the same flesh and blood. Yes, at the beginning of creation G-d set the proper pattern of living for nature and humankind –’Give and Take.’ This formula is the key to happy and peaceful living.

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