The Vort! – Parashat Bereishit

The vort is here!

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Vort is yiddish for “word,” usually referring to a short, shared d’var Torah. We at Jewschool have collectively challenged ourselves to write one for each parasha this year. Can we write short, meaningful, relevant divrei torah on each week’s parasha? Stay tuned to find out!
This week’s vort is written yours truly, coming out of the anonymous blogger closet (I used to be Davidsbundler, a way too obscure classical musical reference that I thought was awesome and not a single person in the world got. Philistines!)
Different contributors will be writing on connections between the weekly Torah portion to justice, spirituality, ritual, worship, and more! If you’re interested in contributing, email me at my name (see above) And now, for this week’s vort on Parashat Bereishit. Word.
The book of Bereishit is filled with profound stories of moral and ethical choices, conflicts, and values. From the beginning, the creation narrative itself, Chazal (the rabbis of the Talmud) learn an important value about how to improve the world. In Masechet Ketubot page 67b, the gemara (aka Talmud) is in the middle of a discussion concerning an orphan who is about to get married. The gemara asks: what kind of assistance should the community provide the new couple? Using the interprative tool g’zeira shava, they note the appearance of the word lo in the following verse from the creation narrative in this week’s parasha:
“Lo tov heyot ha’adam levado – It is not good that Adam should be alone! Aaseh lo ezer ke’negdo – I will make for him a counterpart.” Genesis 2:18
And the word lo in the verse in Deuteronomy (15:8) which details how to give tzedakah:
ki patoach tiftach et yadecha lo... when you open your hand to him… asher yechaser lo –¬† according to his needs.”
To Chazal, the word lo, which appears several times in both verses, signifies the subjective, personal nature of tzedek work. Just as God saw Adam’s individual, personal need and worked to fulfill it, so must we take into account all of a person’s needs – physical, spiritual, emotional, when doing our justice work.
Therefore, in our case of the orphan preparing to take a wife, the gemara says that the community helps arrange the house, bed, household items and marriage for the couple. The proof is the relationship between the lo in Bereishit – the story of God acting in a compassionate, personal way, and the lo in the counterpart commandment to provide for the poor in Deuteronomy.
Our challenge is to walk in the ways of God to hear and understand the multitude of individual needs of the other. Can we put the lo – the person and all of his or her needs, at the center of our pursuit of tzedek? How might we address the isolation of an oppressed migrant worker while righting for her fair wage? How might we address the need of a homeless person to be heard while giving him a sandwich?
As we commit to a new year of pursuing justice, let the spirit of understanding and compassion for individual needs, demonstrated by God and instituted by Chazal, inform our own tikkunim. Shabbat shalom.

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