Parashat Bereshit comes after the intense days of awe and celebration are over. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we prayed fervently to be included in the Book of Life. On Sukkot and Simchat Torah we discovered the joy that comes in gratitude at simply being alive. And then we end the Torah and begin again. It can feel emotional to end this great book. It is matched only with the hope that comes with beginning it again.
And we read our usual story, of the creation of Adam, the first human being, so flawed as to hide from God. And Cain and Abel, children of that first human, so blemished with jealousy and violence. We are devastated. Is it really true that the story is the same as it was last year? How is it that we human beings are so imperfect, running once again from our responsibility toward other human beings?
Our tradition begs for us to remember the uniqueness of every human being. The Talmud teaches that God created us all from the first Adam so that no human being could ever say, “my lineage is greater than yours.” Sanhedrin, Chapter 4, Mishnah 5
And yet we see repeatedly a lack of respect for one another in our contemporary news images of bloodshed, mass shootings, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant policies. Let us work as a people and as the Hillel organization to inspire our students to remember the words that Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.” Let none of us assume that alone we are not powerful enough to stand up for another person’s rights. We are each responsible. To save one life is to save a whole world. (Sanhedrin 4:5)
Andrea Steinberger is the rabbi at the Hillel at the University of Wisconsin.