It seems like an opening replete with sin.
The snake sins as he seduces the inhabitants of Eden. Adam and Eve defy G-d’s commandment and they too sin as they eat from the forbidden tree. Cain sins as he murders his own brother, Abel. And eventually, the entire human experience on earth fails, as we succumb to our worse inclinations: jealousy, promiscuity, thievery and more.
But is that a fitting introduction to such a saintly book? Why can’t the pages of G-d’s Torah open up with a smile?
The answer is telling. And it shares an invaluable lesson for life:
By opening His Torah with so many flops, G-d was teaching each of us that failure is an inevitable part of life. In the words of King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 7:20): “There is no righteous man who never sins.” Yet, the big question of life is not whether we fail or if we sin; the big question is if we can find the courage and strength to rise up after we fall.
Unfortunately, many people find it very hard to rise after experiencing falls. Why? Because falls breed despair. Despair then hurts our self-esteem. And a damaged self-esteem, in which a person ceases to believe in himself, brings about more and more falls.
But the founders of humanity acted differently. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, and they immediately began to raise a family. Cain commits one of the worst sins ever. But he then immediately repents, marries, begets a child and builds a city, naming it after his son, Chanoch. The human experience fails, and a devastating flood emerges. But then, the surviving family of Noach plants a vineyard and rebuilds the world.
Adam and Eve, Cain and Noach and his family, did not lock themselves in their bedroom for endless days after experiencing failure. They did not drink themselves to oblivion, nor did they fall into a state of debilitating depression. Instead, they went out and made a difference. They understood that they could never undo their past.
They would actively repent for the rest of their life, but that didn’t stop any of them from doing the right thing. They understood what Winston Churchill proclaimed a few millennia after them: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
The lesson for all of us is vital: The reaction to destruction must be construction. The best answer to evil must be goodness. The only response to darkness must be light. And as long as the soul still resides in the body, and as long as the breath of G-d replenishes our lives at every moment, one must make a positive difference in this world in spite of the many falls and challenges, without loss of enthusiasm and with more light, more love and more peace.
We also pray with all our might that we will soon find ourselves in a new, post-COVID-19 world.
But will we rise from this pandemic, from this global fall, as better, healthier and stronger people? Will we have responded to this universal crisis with a mightier show of love and unity? Will we have learned the many lessons that this global upheaval has taught us all?
These lessons are that our sense of certitude is an illusion; that the journey of life, with all of its fluctuations, is the destination; that the only true anchors of life are our beloved families, our true friends, our values, our moral compass and our God-given skills and purpose; and that although we have no control over external circumstances, we do have full control over our attitude, and our ability to spring ahead and turn challenge into opportunity.
May God bless us with the wisdom and courage to learn from Adam and Eve and the many giants of Jewish history, so that we too can rise again after each fall, and continue to grow in all good areas and make a positive change in our part of the world. JN
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale.