We Jews never really finish. In Pirkei Avot we learn that our job is not to complete the task, nor are we free to desist from doing all we can. Ours is a tradition calling us to act, to engage, to do even if we never complete the work. We Jews have never been a people content to sit on our laurels.
So it is that as soon as we finish reading Deuteronomy, we immediately return to Genesis. This week we return to the beginning, to the very act of creating the world. In the beginning, God spoke, and the universe reacted. By the end of six days, God takes a day for rest, having concluded the work of creation.
One might assume that God had completed creation by the end of that first week. After all, the whole of the physical world had come into being because of the power of God’s words. Might God really have retired from the work of creation after only one week?
The second chapter of Genesis tells a different story. Another round of creation, this time the story of the Garden of Eden. After that, humanity grows and soon we encounter the Tower of Babel. Clearly the work of creating the world continued long after that first week. So too with us.
We are not yet completed; each of us continues to learn and grow and move closer to completion. Our world is not yet completed; we continue to work toward its completion. Our tradition in exquisiteness and subtlety reminds us again and again — we never fully reach perfection. Our world is never fully completed.
As we continue to live through a pandemic, the reminder offered in the opening words of Bereshit seem especially poignant. As much as we may all wish to fully move beyond the pandemic, we may not have that luxury. COVID-19 likely will be an ongoing part of our world. We, like God in the creation story, will never fully remove ourselves from the pursuit of health and wholeness.
We Jews possess a gift our nation and world need us to share. We understand that perfection may not be possible, but the pursuit remains a most powerful force. Our world needs this unique Jewish lesson now more than ever. We may never reach full control over the virus, but through exploration, scientific experimentation, learning and growing, we can move ever closer to the goal.
Our people from the earliest of times understood the need to keep moving, to keep pushing forward, even in dark or challenging times. We have endured because, in spite of everything, we Jews never stopped pursuing. In beginning again, we recommit ourselves to the challenge of being like God — continually creating, continually reaching for health, wholeness and holiness. PJC
Rabbi Daniel J. Fellman is the senior rabbi at Temple Sinai. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.