Our soon to be vice president, Mike Pence is a Creationist, yet he hates the book of Genesis. His interpretation of Genesis compared to mine, and I believe many of us who mourn this week puts him against the Word of the Lord. Our lamentations this week are so much like the lamentations for the fall of the temple. For me, they are for the fall of the book of Genesis and the real meaning of it.
Let’s look at the opposition view point, because there we cannot ignore it. For centuries, there has been a change between what is God’s and what is Man’s. Science and philosophy have changed what we know about the origins of the universe and about the origins of human beings. As an origin story, Genesis as a literal story suffers in comparison to the Big Bang and evolution. Genesis puts human beings in the center of the universe, Science makes humans so small as to be insignificant. Indeed we are nothing at all, less than speck of ash in all that infinity. For many, that means we don’t matter. For many a contradictory origin story of human life found in the randomness of evolution meant Genesis does not matter. If Genesis is false than all the Bible is false. For this view point then Science negates the bible and with it all belief. Science negates a person’s identity in the universe making them nothing. Negating the Bible negates those in authority of the bible too. The Bible for much of its existence has been the excuse for a few privileged to rule over the population. Putting humans at the center of the universe gives permission for a few to dominate over this planet and its gifts and leave it less than it was. Being the center give many an identity, and coherent identity to his neighbor, who looks and acts like him. Many ascribe to this who are not the privileged few because it gives them a place in the universe where they are more than something else, and that is a comfort. Science destroyed identity in Creation. New social norms of gender, sexual orientation and race changed identity for those who maintain Pence’s view so they became nothing. They feel like a speck of ash or dust in a chaotic universe. That is too hard and painful to bear. These people have struck back this week against this pain, attempting to relieve it.
Yet the Ish Elohim, the person of God believes simultaneously in I am but dust and ashes and The world was made for my sake. The first chapters of Genesis was never literal about human bodies. The people at the time of Jesus and the Rabbis before and after the destruction of the second temple knew this. Instead, Genesis is the story of our souls and our relationships, that which science cannot nor ever explain. What is critical to our understanding of who we are is Genesis 1:27 (My translation):
God made the Human in His Image,
In the Image of God, He made it.
Male and female He made them.
In the image of God, which in Hebrew is Btzelem Elohim, means we, the descendants of the first humans are in the image of God. There is a Jewish commentary in Midrash Rabbah that forms the core of what Genesis 1 and 2 is about for I suspect many of us.
We wonder at the power of God. For a king mints a coin in his image and they all look the same. But the Master of the Universe, blessed be the One, mints coins in God’s image and no two are alike. Btzelem Elohim is each of us, as we are. We are the image of the Creator of our souls. When we are told in Exodus there shall be no image before me, because God is the only image right in front of us. Revere each human being exactly as we should revere God. The same commentaries note that God made only the one male and the female for a reason: we are all one family — no one is superior to another.
Black,White, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist, refugee, homeowner, poor, rich, gay, straight male, female, or transgender we are all God’s currency. We should revere each other as God’s creation. We leave judgement to the True Judge alone. Atheists might call this ethics, but for the rest of us we must call it the way to holiness. The opposition for too long has called claim to holiness in their rhetoric, while turning the currency of God into the currency of the White Christian Man. In doing so they render their coins only unto Caesar. Though my familiarity with Christian theology is very limited I believe as a Jew and a student of the scholars of that period, this is not what Jesus would do. I can’t read Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-31 without thinking that Jesus would think of all people as the Coins of the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus said Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. he didn’t finish the sentence. Many theologians Iv’e read think he implied the last part of the sentence: Psalm 24:1 “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it and all who live in it”
While theologies disagree on my things, those of us lamenting Her foes have become her masters; her enemies are at ease (Lam 1:5) must come together. We as a nation have sinned. None of us, neither Democrat or Republican, Socialist or Independent saw the other in the Image of God. The world was created for our sake because each of us individually need to be the Image of God by seeing others in the Image of God and act accordingly. We must all become holy people. Religion has gotten a bad rap from those who use the coin of Caesar for their own ends. It is time to reclaim religion to make the Story of God, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Allah or whatever you call the Higher Power, ours. We need to repent and reclaim our identity as the Coins of God and to treat others, no matter who they are, as the coins of God. We need to believe in a place where there is no they, only God. Some want to make America Great again. I believe it time to remove the sins of Caesar, the sin of believing the lie there is a they , and make God great again.
We can destroy fear and hate with the love of God with all our heart all our soul and all our might. We must love our neighbor as ourselves, Think and act as both of these commandments are really just One — because they are. This will not be easy. The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, but the Master is pressing.
I alone cannot do this, though I will do my part. I bring a message of my one small, almost still, slightly trembling, voice in the storm. There are many leaders better able to organize and inspire than me. Many of you both Christian and Jewish I call friend. I can only add these thoughts, and maybe that is comfort for some of you who still don’t know what to say.
Our faith my be our ultimate weapon of light in the darkness to come. May we use it well and bring about the day Zechariah proclaims: On that day the Lord will be one and his name One.