Sign In Forgot Password

Sermon, Parshat B'reisheet, 10/16/20

10/20/2020 02:47:59 PM


Rabbi Charlie

To see Rabbi Charlie deliver this sermon, click HERE.

Shabbat Shalom!

Parshat B’reisheet is the beginning of the Torah – and I want to begin with what should be a simple question: Do our words mean what we think they mean? The obvious answer should be, “Of course they do!” At the same time, we have all of these wonderful idioms about how our words can be twisted, we can take words out of context, we can turn words on their head. And sometimes we correct ourselves – “I know that I said that, but I didn’t mean it.” Problems with words and meaning have been happening since the beginning.

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ

That’s how our Torah begins. It’s often translated, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth.” But Rashi points out that according to the rules of Hebrew grammar, it’s more accurately translated, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth.”

 “When God began to create,” implies that something existed before and then God decided to start creating. Rashi teaches that if the writer of this part of Torah had intended to say, “In the beginning,” different phrasing in Hebrew would have been used.

Genesis continues by describing the creation of the world in seven days. Many people take that to mean that God created the world in seven days and that the earth is less than six thousand years old. Others postulate that the word “yom” – “day” does not actually mean “day”. Each day could be a thousand years or a million years. Rashi again comes in – back in the 11th century, so it’s not like he had a lot of science backing him up – and explains that if you read the text really closely, you realize that some kind of water existed before God started creating light or anything else.

He concludes that the Torah was not trying to give a modern, detailed, historical sequence of creation. Instead, Rashi leaves us with the impression that the stories of creation in the Torah were supposed to teach us about Jewish values – that the earth belongs to God and not us, that all of humanity is created in God’s image, that we all have the capacity for good and evil.

Our Torah, therefore, does not always mean exactly what it says. That’s why we rely on the diversity of Rabbinic interpretation to understand how to apply Jewish teachings. As Reform Jews, we readily acknowledge that some parts of the Torah or Jewish Tradition don’t work as well in the Twenty-First Century. What does the Torah mean? Answering that question involves lifelong engagement and study. That’s worked for us for millennia and in general, it still works for us today. What’s incredible is that connecting to our sacred texts has been made even easier by websites like – a comprehensive Jewish library available through the internet. You should definitely check it out!

While ongoing study works for Jewish texts and teachings, if we’re just looking for the news of the day – many of us just want the facts. We just want to know what’s going on in the world. It seems like that has gotten a lot harder. It’s become more difficult to tell the difference between a news reporter and a news commentator. There’s been too many times when in a rush to break the news, accuracy in the report broke down. It’s frustrating to not know what to trust.

And in the midst of all of this difficulty, Facebook and Twitter have proclaimed that they will stop allowing Holocaust Denial on their platforms. I’m applaud that effort. I don’t know how it will be enforced, but I applaud the effort. Holocaust Denial intentionally puts forth disinformation, without regard for documented evidence.

I understand the idea of Free Speech, but there’s a difference between the marketplace of ideas and intentionally misinforming the public to muddy waters and create doubt. When 63% of U.S. Millennials and Gen-Z do not know that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust,

it seems overdue that Holocaust Denial would be banned from social media platforms.

I know that this is a slippery slope and one that should be approached cautiously on every level. But when it comes down to it – for Jewish texts, I want to explore the words and all of the diversity of meaning that comes with it. When it comes to the Holocaust and current events – I want clear, accurate information – without the need of fact checkers - where the words can be understood by the general public – even if that means we have to curtail Free Speech to reduce the impact of Holocaust Denial or other forms of disinformation.

Shabbat Shalom!


Thu, January 21 2021 8 Sh'vat 5781