Parashah (portion) Bereshit – In the Image of God 

Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

In the spring of this year, our community entered into a conversation about the values that members experience Bet Alef to embody, and that it wishes to foster. After several months of a conversation which took place both in person and online, a list of principles began to take shape. As I poured over this long list, it appeared to me that most of the values fell into seven categories (in no particular order):Community, Inclusivity, Meditation, Jewish Studies, Shabbat, Integrity and Social Justice. Out of these categories I proceeded to extract twelve values based on everyone’s input. In this way, the community guided me in choosing the focus of the teachings for the coming twelve months. My hope is that in focusing on the following principles throughout this year, we will together support a deepening of practice when it comes to how we, both individually and as a community, embody these values in our own life. Here are the twelve values that I selected in the order they will appear:

  • Sacred Space
  • Silence
  • Trust
  • Compassion
  • Service
  • Joy
  • Generosity
  • Mindfulness
  • Torah Study
  • Loving-Kindness
  • Truth
  • Humility

We begin our year with “Sacred Space” as our first month’s focus. This seems only fitting since, as the annual cycle of our Torah study begins again, the creation of sacred space is what this week’s portion, Bereshit/Genesis, is about. In the opening verses of Torah, the Transcendent Emptiness, the Un-manifest aspect of the Divine, begins a process of manifesting Itself as Sacred Space, as concentric circles upon concentric circles of Sacred Space from the infinitely large to the infinitesimally small.

At the end of this process, last in the Creation account, mankind is formed. Some commentators read this as a teaching in humility, reminding us in the moments when our ego becomes over-inflated, that we were – after all – created after worms. Others read into this order that mankind is the apex of Creation. I believe that both are true. Regardless, however, of how we interpret this passage, our own process of spiritual evolution – a process designed to lead us from the exclusive identification with the finite small separate self, toward an awakening to the infinite Being that we are – begins inevitably with introspection; begins with remembering that – though created last – we, too, are Divine Sacred Space. This is what our Torah portion expresses so beautifully in recounting God’s fashioning the androgynous Adam, the prototypical human being:

God [thus] created Adam/mankind in Its image. (Gen. 1:27)

All of us are created as an image, as an expression of the Divine; an expression in the realm of Creation of the un-manifest One. All of us are a unique manifestation of the Divine, a unique embodiment of the Formless. It is not so much that God is to be found only in the remote corner of our heart, or as the still small voice in the deep recess of our soul; rather, God fills our entire being. God is every cell of our body, every thought, emotion, sensation, or desire we have ever experienced-the totality of who we are. We are Sacred Space.

As individuals and as a community, we value the diversity of all sacred forms through which the Eternal One manifests. We seek to become increasingly able to recognize the Divine Presence behind the eyes of all those we meet. We look to stand as bridges when the world offers energies of separateness, of isolation, of division. When met with intolerance, we seek to offer compassion; and when confronted with clinched fists, to respond with an open heart. We work toward easing the suffering of all sacred beings, toward ending poverty, racism, bigotry, prejudice, and violence both in our own neighborhoods and throughout the world.

If this is something you value, then perhaps this month is an opportunity to examine whether you are acting in your world and toward yourself in a way that is congruent with this belief? Are you treating your body as sacred? Are you still challenging your mind to learn new concepts and theories? Are you carving enough time out of your day for your spirit? Consider taking an honest assessment but hold yourself with gentleness and compassion. Self-awareness is always the first step toward personal growth, toward opening our heart to the Divine manifesting in every heart.

The High Priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, our Torah recounts, wore on his forehead a plate of pure gold where the words “Holy to God” were engraved in a way that he would see them reflected on the forehead of all those he met. May we, like the High Priest, know these words to be imprinted on the forehead of all the people in our lives, may we awaken to the holiness that we are, and treat ourselves – body, mind and spirit – as Sacred Space.

© 2010 Rabbi Olivier BenHaim, All rights reserved.