October 1, 2021 / 25 Tishrei, 5782
enlightenment dawns on us
Much has been written about the English translation of the first three words of the Torah:
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים
Bereshit bara Elohim
It is most commonly translated as “In the beginning, God created …” However, grammatically, that does not quite convey the fullness of the Hebrew. In their Contemporary Torah, the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) actually translates it as “When God began to create …” And in Everett Fox’s Schocken Bible, it is translated as “At the beginning of God’s creating …”
I like what Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser offers: “In the beginning, of the beginning that is always beginning, God created the creation that is still [being created/creating itself].”
The feeling is that ‘what was’ and ‘what will be’ both exist it ‘what is.’ That the past and the future live in the present. And, in each moment, they are one. God created a creation that continues to be created. Creation is ongoing. Creation, itself, and all that has been created continue to further create creation. Out of the mystery, creation is continuously being created. In the beginning of the beginning, we begin anew. We continue to begin.
And, at particular junctures, we can begin to begin anew.
I find myself at one of those junctures right now. In addition to welcoming in the new year of 5782 on the sacred Hebrew calendar, and another Shmitah (sabbatical) year, I am embarking on a journey into the unknown, into the mystery, into the wild. Into what cannot be known in this moment with the tools that I currently have.
And out of the unknowing, I am welcoming a new beginning. Out of what I know and do not know, I am beginning anew. A new country. A new experience of my body. A new perspective, A new enthusiasm. A new sense of wonder. A new appreciation for being a part of all creation, and taking my place in the continuing journey of creation—of having been created, and being a creature who can continue to create and be creative going forward.
There is another issue that arises at the very beginning of the Torah. On the First Day —at the very, very beginning— as the Divine begins to create Creation, these words are spoken:
Let there be light.
וַיַּבְדֵּ֣ל אֱלֹהִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֥ין הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ
and there was light …and the Divine separated light from darkness.
However, it isn’t until the Fourth Day that the sun and the moon are created. So what was the light that was created on the First Day? At the beginning of the beginning, what kind of light illuminated darkness?
I understand this first light to be the light of insight and wisdom and understanding that illuminates unknowing and narrowness which can feel like a kind of darkness. Awareness blazing through ignorance. An awakening. What Buddhism calls Enlightenment.
From a Buddhist perspective, enlightenment is achieved after considerable spiritual practice, service, and effort throughout one’s lifetime (or many lifetimes). Enlightenment is when one becomes awakened, filled with insight and wisdom and understanding. Freed from suffering that comes from ignorance or unawareness. It is the end of the cycle of suffering. The end of searching and wandering and exploring.
But I am experiencing the Torah as offering a radically different formulation … about the creation of the world beginning with enlightenment. An enlightenment that fueled creation. An enlightenment that came even before the beginning of time or the beginning of creation itself. Before any effort at all was made to achieve it, enlightenment was there. Enlightenment is the starting point. We are created from enlightenment. Through enlightenment. With enlightenment. We begin as enlightened beings and we venture forth into the world … in an enlightened, awakened state—with perfect wisdom, complete understanding, and great insight. And we go from there.
The Divine gathered together all of the holy sparks of enlightenment to begin creating the world. Creation is formed from enlightenment. The creating of creation is bathed in enlightenment. Creation is the manifestation of enlightenment. To be created is to be enlightened.
And as I set out on my Shmitah adventure —venturing into the unknown, into the mystery, into the wild— I am filled with the experience of enlightenment. As I begin my journey of creating the path as I go, I begin with enlightenment. I begin with a deep knowing even as the path that lies before me feels like a big mystery. Enlightenment and creativity are fueling my adventure and encouraging me onward. As I begin to begin anew.