Permanent Temporariness, Part II – Parshat Bereishit
Very. A modifying word. It comes from the latin veritas, meaning truth.1 Aside from the Sesame Street song about the letter 'V' where the word 'very' is used umpteen times,2 we use it to describe adjectives. How big is it? Very big. How far is it? Very far.
I found a fascinating discussion in the Midrash about the use of the word 'very' in this week's parsha, Parshat Bereishit. At the end of each of the 6 Days of Creation, it says that God saw that day's creation that it was good. Yet at the end of the 6th day, it says that God saw all that He had done "and behold, it was very good".3 The Midrash debates what turned that day into a "very" good day. There are numerous opinions – at last count I found 8 different opinions. They are all fascinating and worth pondering but I will limit this blog to discussing Rebbe Meir's opinion that the word "very" is referring to death.4 Death is that which brings extra meaning to life according to this opinion. It is what gives the Creation that extra something to make the Creation not just good, but "very good".
What gives? Celebrate mortality? Death is what makes the Creation very good?
I don’t know. I don’t even understand what death is5 so how can I even expect to have an opinion on its merits.
What I do know is that our mortality is a given.
Once it is a given, I can choose how to relate to it. It is a part of Creation so let me view its benefits as I do other areas of Creation. Thinking about death can help us decide how to spend our time here. Knowing that there are things in this world which we do not understand and over which we have little control, we can either sink into deep despair or we can learn to find a healthy attitude. "Thus, life has a meaning to the last breath…by the very attitude with which we face our unchangeable suffering—this possibility exists to the very last moment."6 So, we can go on with our lives and eat, drink and learn to be happy with our physical and spiritual lot as Kohelet describes, even though we do not understand what happens in this world.7 Or we can work on having a just society and doing acts of loving kindness as the prophet Micah proscribes.8 Or both. Or something else.
We can decide!
It is within our power to choose the attitude we have towards our own mortality and our permanent sense of temporariness.
May it be a year of good things happening to us and in which we make good decisions that help us identify and experience meaning in our lives.
Have A Great Shabbat!