I recently heard a famous sports broadcaster lament when people use the phrase, “this team controls their own destiny.” We hear this in football all the time. [Imagine a color commentator speaking] “Heading into this last week of the season, Team X controls their own destiny.” According to this broadcaster, this logic makes no sense. If it is destiny, then we don’t control it. And if we control the future, it is not destiny. Initially, my reaction was, “OK, that makes sense. There is at least one more cliche I can throw out of my lexicon.” But then I started to think more about it, and I have been thinking about it for the past couple of weeks.
This week we begin reading again from Parshat Breishit. Rashi brings a midrash on the first words of the Torah. “IN THE BEGINNING/בראשית — Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah should have commenced with the verse in Exodus, “This month shall be unto you the first of the months”, which is the first commandment given to Israel. What is the reason, then, that it commences with Creation? Because of the thought expressed in the text from Psalms, “He declared to His people the strength of His deeds...” Essentially, this is a challenge to us to consider why the Torah starts where it does. The midrash states that the answer is that God’s actions are supremely powerful. The world belongs to God and God can give and take at God’s discretion since everything is divine property.
However, the Sfas Emes, picks up on the verse from Psalms and believes that there is something else going on here. He teaches us why we have all these Parshiyot from Breishit until we get the first mitzvah in Parshat Bo. Since, traditionally, the Torah’s essence is in its mitzvot. This is the Written Torah/תורה שבכתב. But, Hashem wants to make it clear that everything in this world comes from the Torah, as the midrash says, ‘In the beginning, God looked into the Torah and thus created the world’--Torah becomes the blueprint for the world. And this is the concept of Oral Torah/תורה שבעל פה, which is dependent on the deeds of humanity. And these are all of the parshiyot with the deeds of our ancestors--to show us that Torah was made out of their actions. And this is what “the power of His deeds” really means. What amazing power Hashem gave to “action”! That is why it is called The Act of Creation/מעשה בראשית. When a person acts through the prism and power of Torah, we reveal and renew the hidden holy light in the things that surround us. On this it is said in Isaiah, “I have put my words in your mouth, and hidden you in the shadow of my hand, stretching out the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, ‘You are my people.’” The Zohar teaches, don’t read ‘my people (עמי-Ami)’, rather, read ‘with me (עמי-Imi)’. We are partners in the acts of creation. When we act through Torah, when we act in a way that shows that we recognize that every person and thing has that Divine spark in them, then we are co-creators of the world as it should be. That is how we become partners with God in laying the foundation of the Earth. That is why we start the Torah where we do, with the deeds of our ancestors. It proves that our good and pious action becomes the Torah, which we are then meant to follow.
Coming down from the holiday season can be difficult after a month of spiritual highs. But this teaching is here to push us to see that the New Year did not begin with Rosh Hashana. It begins right now. This upcoming week, I want to challenge us to think about our actions. In what ways are we partners with God in building a world that reflects the Divine Image? Are there ways in which our actions are actively damaging that blueprint? Take one or two things this week that you are going to do. Focus on them. Do them with the intention that they are going to stabilize the foundation of the world. If we can do that, than this will truly be a wonderful beginning to a sweet New Year. As it turns out, we actually do control our own destiny.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.