Bereshit: Why It Takes a Village
Last Sunday we launched our mental health initiative called “So Healthy Together.” Over two hundred people came from all over the city to share their stories and learn from experts. What I learned from our launch was that community is the most important aspect to helping prevent tragic loss like suicide to mental illness and to help survivors heal. The world is a lonely place and is only getting lonelier. Despite the fact that the global population keeps growing, a product of our modern fast-paced and individualistic society is that many of us experience life alone even if we are in the company of other people.
Think of it this way, life today is like one long extended cocktail party where we mill about the room in our finery chatting with others for a short time about the news of the day or the our favorite TV shows or sports teams. Then after a few moments we move onto the next person to repeat the process with only limited variation until it is time to leave the party. While this metaphor does not cover the full extent of human living, it does describe the phenomenon of being an individual. We join others for a time as but ultimately we are self-actuated individuals who write our own story. It is powerful to be an individual. It is liberating. There is also the price of loneliness or feeling lost in the crowd.
The existential burden of being alone is felt by none other than God In our Torah. This week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, resets history and brings us back to the beginning – the very beginning. God looks out upon the universe and decides to create something from nothing. God decides to not be alone. It was the greatest decision ever made. First came light, then land and flowers and finally us. God reached across the mystery and the expanse in order to feel the presence of an other, or many many others. God reflects these feelings again when God says to Adam, “It is not good to be alone.” (Gen 2:18). God creates a partner for Adam so that Adam would not feel the same kind of loneliness that God felt on the eve of creation.
We need each other. Everyone of us is needed by others and by God. We are needed not just to share a joke or gripe about politics. We are needed to be in the lives of other people. We are needed to bring others in our lives at the deepest of levels. The hasidic masters tell this story of Rabbi Hanokh shared about his teacher, Rabbi Simcha Bunam. For a whole year his students would enter his house with trepidation. Rabbi Hanokh said, ‘every time I entered the house, I felt I wasn’t man enough.’ Once though, when I was walking across a field and weeping, I knew that I must run to the rabbi without delay. He asked, “Why are you weeping?” I answered: “I am alive in this world, a being created with all the senses and all the limbs, but I do not know what it is I was created for and what I am good for in this world.” “My student,” he replied, “that’s the same question I have carried around with me all my life. Come and eat the evening meal with me today.” Rabbi Bunam’s antidote to loneliness is ours as well. Being together, sharing a meal, and the slow and steady path of building relationships is what creates the superstructure that gives meaning and purpose to our lives.
It takes a community, a village, to know what is in the heart of of our fellow people. If we decide to follow God’s lead, we can create, we can shape chaos into something beautiful by bringing light to the darkness and finding the goodness in our souls.