Friday, October 21, 2011

Creation and Health: Lessons from Parashat B'reisheit


One of the most famous lines from the Torah is its first verse which is located in this week's portion, Parashat B'reisheit:

א בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ. 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Many lessons can be learned from the linguistic characteristics of these opening words. The first has to do with the root that is used for creation: bet, reish, aleph. The root for creation in Hebrew is the same as that for health. The word, breiut, health, is related to bara, God created. What does this teach us? That health and creativity are interrelated concepts. One of the symbols of vitality is the impulse to create, and creation itself. One of the clear signs of an unhealthy person or organization is the repetition of the same stories, behaviors, events, and behavioral patterns without new thought, innovation, or the desire to be something better. Without creativity and creation, we are are not healthy. Even though creation takes energy and effort, it is what ensures our future life and success.

The second element of this parasha (Torah portion) that is noteworthy is how God creates. The idea of creation is intricately linked to havdallah, separation. God does not create out of nothingness, but takes the amorphous chaos of the universe and provides ordering and categorization. Often when we assume leadership positions, we think it is upon us to re-create the wheel. However, Divine creation is about using the materials at hand and making what already exists manageable, usable, and meaningful.

At the beginning of this new Jewish year, let us learn from God's example about how to how to live a healthy, creative, and effective life of leadership. Let us always strive to be creative and break paradigms that have failed us, while using the resources we already do have in order to craft a life of richness and fulfillment.

Shabbat Shalom!

P.S. Thank you to Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz for the central ideas in this post. His words were sent to me via the weekly JTS Torah Commentary email!