In The Beginning God Created Carrrots
At Jewish Newport
October 16, 2020
Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel, Beth Ginsburg Levine and Vicki Kaplan
Let’s start at the beginning! It sounds simple. But in Judaism everything is open to questions.
“As we begin to read the Torah from the beginning, Rashi asks, ‘Why does the Torah begin with the story of creation? The Torah is a book of Mitzvot, and should begin with the Mitzvot.’ The Ramban disagrees, and says that, ‘It is vital to begin with the creation story, because it forms an important part of our outlook on life.’
We are not accidents. We are part of a larger plan of God, and we must partner with God in maintaining this world. Indeed, as we humans face major challenges of climate change and social disunity, we must begin with doing our share to repair God's world. That is our mandate and the time is now!”
In Judaism, it is not clear who has the last word. So, Mr. Rambam, I will put in my five cents.
If the Torah starts with creation, it is because it sells. Just look at today. DNA test kits and genealogy software are big business. TV shows are devoted to who you think you are. We are fascinated with every scrap of science news about the origins of life, about the origin of the universe, and the evolution of hominids. There is a drumbeat of news about historic discoveries, be it in Egypt, the Vikings, the Romans, and across the globe.
Clearly there is a wide interest in origins. Starting the Torah with creation addresses that interest, and draws the reader in. Why not take the opportunity to throw in a few commandments, even 613, at no extra charge?
But do our origins really matter?
When the playwright Anton Checkov was asked about the meaning of life, he retorted, “That’s like asking me what is the meaning of a carrot? A carrot is a carrot, and that is all there is to it.”
Chekov was warning us about being obsessed with the latest discoveries and philosophical debates and the use of “science” to justify our beliefs. Living in late 19th century Russia, Chekov was aware of the obsessive discussions of opponents of the Tsarist regime that led to fanatacism.
In1863, Nikolai Chernyshevsky wrote “What is to be done?” which emphasized the duty of intellectuals to educate and lead the Russian masses, and encouraged idealism, asceticism, and fanaticism. The book was inspiring and persuasive with a logical and scientific veneer. How could it be wrong? The book was so inflammatory that both Fyodor Dosteyevsky and Lev Tolstoy wrote responses. It inspired Russian radicals, particularly Vladimir Lenin.
Judaism doesn’t discourage our interest in our origins nor does it oppose science, but it is sensitive to the misuse of science and dubious about basing ethics on science.
Judaism is concerned with how to be a mensch. We are encouraged to be leaders by setting an example. Russsian radicalism took a different approach to leadership, my way or the highway.
May your life and your carrots be meaningful sans fanaticism!
Carrot (and squash) fanatics should beware of carotenemia(orange skin)!
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!