Back to the Beginning
Each year as we begin to read the Torah again with the immortal words, “In the Beginning,” I think of my very first rabbinical assignment.
As a first year student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles campus, I conducted Friday night worship at the Flora Terrace Convalescent Home on Pico Boulevard. I led Shabbat Eve worship and then visited patients in their rooms. I earned $10.00 for each visit.
One Friday night, not long after I began there, the attendant greeted me with, “Rabbi, you have a new congregant. Rabbi Rosenfeld, an 85-year-old Orthodox rabbi is with us, and he will attend your service.”
“What?!” I thought to myself. “An Orthodox rabbi is coming to my service! Many Orthodox rabbis hold Reform Judaism in disdain. What will he think? How will he react?”
These thoughts played on my mind during the service. Rabbi Rosenfeld sat there, alert but impassive. There was a large black Kipah on his head and the Union Prayer Book from which we prayed sat tightly shut in his hands the whole time.
After the service I made my rounds and approached his room with trepidation.
He was most gracious and told me a story.
“I am 85-years old,” he said, “and I have been studying Torah my whole life. And yet I still feel like I am at the beginning of my studies.”
“How is that?” I asked.
“When I was six-years old, my teacher handed me a Chumash (text of the five books of the Torah in book form) and said, ‘Read!’
So I read (in Hebrew) the first words of the Torah, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’
Then, I looked up and ask, ‘If in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, then who created God?’
And WHAM! I got such a slap across the face that I still feel it, so I always feel I am at the beginning of my studies.”
In studying the first portion of the Torah, “Who created God?” is as appropriate a question as, “What was the (unnamed, and no where does it say ‘apple’) fruit that led to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden?”
In traditional Jewish life, one who has strayed from religious observance but returns to the fold is considered one who, “hozer b’tshuvah, one who returns in repentance.” Literally translated the phrase means, “one who returns with answers.”
The late Rabbi Harold Schulweis taught he felt greater admiration for one “sheh hozer b’she’elah, one who returns with questions.”
Questions are the lifeblood of learning.
In the study of Torah, no questions should be out of bounds, so,“Who created God?”
I pray I never stop asking the question.