Genesis: begin at the beginning
By Rabbi David M. Sofian, Temple Israel, Dayton, Ohio
Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
First of all, let me wish everyone — one last time — a happy and healthy new year.
With the completion of Simchat Torah we find our weekly Torah readings bringing us back to the book of Genesis. This book is filled with stories that are beloved by every generation of Jews.
Hearing the creation story stimulates our wonder at the natural universe. The events of the Garden of Eden make us think about our own natures. The episodes of Noah and the Tower of Babel cause us to ponder our behavior and its consequences.
And the patriarchal accounts teach so much about our Jewish identities by reminding us of our origins. Jews have always found sustenance and meaning in this narrative heritage.
I mention this because I wonder if we all still have these stories at our fingertips. I wonder if each of us is well-versed enough in this basic level of our heritage.
Can we still draw upon the details of these stories as the generations before us could? As we face inevitable human problems do we instantly relate them to the problems our Matriarchs and Patriarchs faced?
For many of us the answer will be yes, but honesty demands that we recognize that for many of us the answer may be no. As I talk to people, I find that in spite of basic familiarity with the generalities of the Genesis stories, many are not so sure about the details of these fundamental stories. For many, their Jewish identity is weakened because they lack confidence in their knowledge.
Sometimes I am asked where someone should begin if wanting to become more knowledgeable Jewishly. Or I am asked how to strengthen Jewish identity for oneself or for one’s family.
One very good answer is to begin with these stories. To a large extent, Jewishness is a matter of one’s associations, both to other Jews and to the content of our heritage.
The deeper and more frequent the associations, the more knowledgeable and confident we are and the more meaningful our Judaism becomes.
The stories of Genesis and for that matter the rest of the Torah, are the foundation for everything else in Judaism. They are the beginning. I believe every Jew should know them the same way we know our address or phone number. They should be part and parcel of who each of us is.
Now is our opportunity since the cycle of Torah readings is teaching Genesis at this time of year. Study them in Torah class. Come to Shabbat morning services and hear them in the Torah reading.
Learn them and let them become woven into the fabric of your life. Your Jewish identity will be strengthened. You will be enriched.