We Jews read the Torah all the way through every year, beginning again on a Saturday after all of our fall holidays finish. The stories are familiar, and I don’t know about you, but every time I read a story I’ve heard before, I hear new details, and I derive new meanings.
It’s about where I am on the day that I read it.
What mood I am in, what’s happening in the world, what precedes and follows the reading.
Today, we began with the very first page, the story of Bereishit, the story of Creation.
And today, my daughter celebrated the first of two bat mitzvahs, at her dad’s Orthodox synagogue. We came together once again with integrity and soulful good will to celebrate this girl that we love.
In her father’s world, girls do not have access to read the Torah portion during services. Men and women are separated and only men are permitted to lead services. In some communities, although not here in Detroit, women come together without men to lead a tefillah or prayer service, and even some rare instances, girls read Torah.
Because the Torah does not only belong to the male gender. It belongs to us all.
My daughter did, however, give a speech after services to the entire congregation, sharing her insights on this Creation story.
Why do we need to read it, really, she asked? Don’t we know that God created the world and everything on it?
But the story, she asserted, is a reminder to be grateful for, to appreciate, to wonder at all the beauty of creation – and the miracle that it is still glowing, blowing, bright and beautiful, every single day.
It’s a good message because we all take our lives and gifts within it for granted. We can’t help it.
We get so caught up in the race to get things done, to go places, to yearn, to want, to bemoan, that we don’t emphasize the goodness all around.
Like today: the morning dawned cold and clear, bright sun and brilliant blue. The bite in the air awakened us. The scent of fall lingered on the branches and in the spaces between the trees.
Although it is awkward to be a divorced family and then a blended family including so many different people and connections, we all sat together in the synagogue – my daughter flanked by me and her paternal grandmother, then my sister, mother and niece to one side and my ex’s girlfriend, niece and sister on the other.
We kissed one another and wished congratulations all around. I love that my favorite heels, the black sleek Mary Janes with pencil-point heels and flowers all over the black silk mirrored the floral-decorated black dress worn by my ex’s girlfriend.
Because you see, we are more similar than we are different.
The other day, I pondered the passion that one needs to make great change in this world. I asked myself, not for the first time, what am I passionate about? What is my purpose? How can I transcend the ordinary to truly make a difference with my life?
And one answer that came to me was to try to show the world how much we share in common – values, beliefs, foods, desires. We are so much the same, but we forget that in our race to be right, to be unique, to matter.
Why can’t we all matter?
And when I saw that my shoes and her dress were almost the same, I had to smile. Focus on what we share, not on what divides us.
All Western religions share this Creation story that was read today in synagogues around the world. We share the same origins. Adam and Eve, the serpent and the forbidden fruit.
The punishment of being banished from paradise, the same connection to an enduring Creator.
The same family values and desires to create community out of our stories.
In one tiny space of Jerusalem, you can visit sites holy to Jews, Christians, Muslims.
Why not friends?
My daughter said in her speech that we reread the Creation story to remember to be grateful, to notice the beauty, to be a witness to the miracle of Creation that happens every day.
Sometimes we don’t see it that way, when the alarm rings loud in the black dawn and we fold out of a soundless sleep, into the cold morning, to make lunches, shower and fix our makeup, get ready to greet the day and achieve something.
Still, it’s there. We run the race toward meaning, hoping when we cross the finish line, it will all be clear.