I love the symmetry between Genesis and Exodus. The first chapters of Genesis tell the story of God’s handiwork in creating the cosmos, the earth, and everything in it.
The last chapters of Exodus tell the story of human’s handiwork in creating the mishkan, the Tabernacle that the Children of Israel carried with them through to desert to their new home.
In the beginning God created everything we would need and then God created us, entwining two disparate elements: dirt and God’s breath. This unlikely combination sets the tone for humankind’s ongoing relationship with the Divine, with each other, and with the planet. We are made from that which is most basic, from simple dirt scooped up from the ground, and then are enlivened by that which is most high, that which we cannot begin to comprehend.
And so we have continued from creation to today, each person struggling to find a balance between our lowest instincts and our highest selves.
Through Genesis to Exodus, the Torah tells the story of humankind’s development from individuals, to families, to community, and offers guidance on navigating the complexities of being both human and made from God’s breath.
The culmination of that process comes at the end of Exodus, when the Children of Israel complete the task that God assigned them; to come together as a community, women and men, to construct a mishkan, a sacred place for God (“and let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell amongst them,” Exodus 25:8).
An essential element of both creation stories is light, both the physical light by which we see and the light of consciousness, the light of wisdom and understanding.
One way to understand the Torah is that it begins with God creating us and our home, in order that we can create a home for God. In other words, our relationship with God is symbiotic; we need God, and God needs us.
Why does God need us? Because our task is to be God’s hands in the world, to fully engage with that element within ourselves that is imbued with the breath, with the essence of the Divine.
Building and maintaining communities, doing God’s holy work, is not easy. After all, the other essential element of being human is our physical nature. We come from dust, and we will return to dust. But in the short time we have in between, we can be so much more.
Dedicated to Rabbi Evan Krame on the anniversary of his birth. He has been for me and so many others an example of how to be God’s hands, to shine God’s light on the world.