“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” We have just finished reading the last chapter from the Book of Deuteronomy and immediately begin reading from Genesis. So we do year after year, the story is the same story, repeating word by word. There is something different though, we are different, we had many life experiences in the past year, we have changed. It is time for us to reread the Torah anew, moving just a little bit ahead in the spiral of life.
The words remain eternally the same but we have the option, maybe not only the option but the obligation, to open our eyes and minds and try to better understand the words and anything that is in between them. We need to look for our God not only through what others have written or spoken by others, but also by ourselves. To think freely our own thoughts and come up with our own conclusions from the scriptures, being free to add so that the coil of life advances somewhat more during the year to come. When we are unable to progress we actually remain behind while others move forward. This is because those who are able to move forward will be in another place next year, sometimes far from our reach.
I do believe though that there is one more inspiring thing in these opening words of the Book of Genesis. Something that raises fear, awe, and fascination. “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” We just read about the People of Israel being ready to enter the Promised Land, the change of leadership to Joshua and the death of the great leader Moses, and here we are back again in a world of disorder. A world that is to be built from bottom up, that requires a superior force to get things going again. Admittedly things like that, may be not that grand, happen on our lives all the time. We are swept into a whirlpool of feelings, disabilities and difficulties. Maybe a feeling that everything is lost, there is no way to fix it all. We need something that will call out, “Let there be light” and that will help separate “the light from the darkness”.
In the past few days we have been anxiously following the news from California hit by a barrage of forest fires. As I write these words tens are known to have perished and hundreds are missing. This is a kind of fire that is a type of the "תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ" described in the scripture, fires leaping from mountains to valleys and back again. Eventually the fires shall be contained and extinguished, and scorched land will remain as evidence of the turmoil, the dead shall be buried and only memories survive. This huge fire also claimed one of the North American largest summer camp, Camp Newman. Many Israelis, members of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) have spent cherished times in that place. For many this place was their moment of light, that opened to them a window to Judaism of a kind they have never seen before in Israel. A kind of Judaism that can fit into their own beliefs and ways of life, that known how to integrate tradition with modernity, the love of Israel and love to mankind, that can embrace science and faith.
For a while darkness has covered the scorched areas of Sonoma and Napa and lay upon the area that once was a corner stone summer camp of the Reform Movement. Just a few months ago a major renovation and rebuilding period has concluded directed towards the preparation of the camp for new generations of camp goers for many generations to come. Once it was clear that there are no casualties and that the Torah scrolls were saved from the synagogue of the camp, its leadership stood firm to call to us all “Let there be light”. The blaze has claimed a lot but cannot extinguish the spirit. Our hearts and souls are with the many victims and their families, the injured and sufferers throughout that great State of California. We strengthen them with our prayers from here in Israel. They will rebuild again, start anew, but also take a step ahead in this complex spiral of life. They will surely add another magnificent layer to the cycle of life of Reform summer camps in North America. We will try our best to be with them in casting this effort not only in words but also in deed. We are sisters and brothers to this undertaking and we too have a responsibility to bear, not only on the first day but in each and every day of the week, so that we can together enjoy the benefits of a joint Shabbat.
Reuven Marko, Netanya, 24 Tishrei 5778, 13 October 2017