We may well be reading the third portion of the Torah this coming Shabbos but since it's the third out of 50 odd sidros it's fair to say we've barely started. We Jews are fortunate for many reasons. Like Paddington Bear we get two birthdays and even two new years: one for getting blasted, the other for getting plastered. In fact it often feels as if we get a third new year when after the celebrations of the first weeks of the new year we roll back the Torah to the beginning at the opening chapter of Genesis and start again In The Beginning…
That was two weeks ago yet in that time a world's been created and destroyed, humans have come and gone with alarming frequency, man got his woman and together they sinned (what else?), were cursed and expelled. Naturally enough man 'knew' his woman, for if you're not in the Eden you were given you might as well create one for yourself, and they begot offspring. And this is basically what has been happening ever since.
There's also been fratricide, a deluge, inebriation followed by indecent exposure (some things never change), attempts at building a skyscraper, attempted rape, a battle, abductions, celestial visions, bitching wives, men falling out over money and yet we're only up to the 3rd portion. Some book Bereishis is and though unfortunately I'm not always the most decorously behaved in shul when it comes to the reading during these weeks I sit enraptured and devour every word.
We wouldn't be Jews if we weren't always seeking the 'deeper meaning' and God knows how the verses of His books often pass through so many hoops that I'm sure there are times He blushes when He sees the meanings attributed to His words. And yet it is difficult to read these chapters without seeing in them a universal message. Both Darwin and the Bible agree that we began in complete ignorance and without clothes on and the argument appears to be whether we evolved to Gucci via Primark or whether it was a fig leaf from Victoria's Secrets at the outset and we've been going downhill ever since.
Moving on to tomorrow's portion which begins Lech Lecho, meaning 'Go for your sake' (Rashi), or, 'Get thee out' (JPS following KJV), when God told Avram to leave his 'land, birthplace and father's home to the land I will show you.' There is a mystery at the heart of it as to why God chose this particular chap and told him to abandon everything in return for untold richness and greatness. The rabbis came up with tales of how Avram came to know his creator, his zealotry, what we now call 'outreach' and attempted martyrdom. They all seek to answer the central question, why him?, and by extension, why us?
When in Jewish-centric mode I see in the story of Avram the story of the Jewish people wandering from pillar to post to a land they have yet to be shown. We left the land and birthplace of the father of our nation to go to a land we were then driven from and we're basically back to where we started. It also makes us somewhat homeless: always on one place looking from and to elsewhere.
However, since I prefer to spend my time in a universal state of mind I like to see the story of Avram as as a metaphor for the human condition. To acquire greatness and riches, be they intellectual, spiritual or material, or to improve the human condition one must shed dogmas and baggage of the past. You must leave your intellectual 'birthplace and father's home' and go to a land that will be shown to you. The journey may start simply by leaving the past behind despite not knowing whence it is heading. For greatness lies not in certainties and absolutes but in the confidence to admit that what has been cannot continue and a burning desire to find something brighter and better.
And now let me bring in the protestors round the world dwelling in tents like Avram and calling for change. Many have criticised them for not having a solution to the problems they complain about. But that appears to say that what is must remain until there is a viable alternative. That may sound practical but is not how real and fundamental change is brought about. The Torah teaches us that one may leave behind a corrupt past even if the route ahead is unmarked and the destiny unknown. In the beginning shed the past for abandoning what has been is the first step of the journey and like all first steps it is often the bravest.