Between the Lines—Bereishit

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Abigail Treu

תלמוד בבלי מסכת עבודה זרה דף ח עמוד א

ת"ר: יום שנברא בו אדם הראשון, כיון ששקעה עליו חמה, אמר: אוי לי, שבשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי ויחזור עולם לתוהו ובוהו, וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים, היה יושב [בתענית] ובוכה כל הלילה וחוה בוכה כנגדו, כיון שעלה עמוד השחר, אמר: מנהגו של עולם הוא, עמד והקריב שור.

Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 8a

Our masters taught: When Adam on the day of his creation saw the sun sinking in the sky before him, he said, "Woe is me! Because I acted offensively, the world is darkening for me and is about to return to darkness and desolation—indeed, this is the death that Heaven has decreed for me." So he sat down to fast and to weep throughout the night, while Eve wept beside him. But when the dawn began slowly rising like a column, he said, "Such is the way of nature," and then proceeded to offer up a bullock.

The shock of the unexpected, the fear of change, the guilt at having done something irreversible: feelings we know all too well. When things go badly, our gut response is often, "Why me?" We then probe our actions to discover the trigger that caused it all, and bemoan our fate with those closest to us.

With the passing of time, however, we learn: it's not all about us. This unfolds on two levels: as children, we grow up to learn that the world does not revolve around us, and as adults, we learn with each new twist of life that, while we might feel responsible for certain things, in reality we have little control. As Adam HaRishon, the first man, put it, "Such is the way of nature." We learn to shrug and say, "That's the way the world turns."

What we see in this midrash is the call to turn from fear and guilt to acceptance. We see Adam and Chava react with fear to the setting of the sun, worrying from an overblown sense of personal responsibility that is at once immature and deeply sage, about their role in such a matter. As the dark night is brightened by the first rays of dawn, however, they realize: this was not our doing. They move from fear and guilt into relief and gratitude.

This, I think, is an important message for us as we begin the new year. We move from the guilt and overblown sense of personal responsibility that marks Yom Kippur into a place in which we can cope with the ups and downs—the sunrises and sunsets—of daily living. In gratitude, we offer up our daily prayers of thanks, as Adam offered up a bullock. And with the sun rising on a new day, we remember the ultimate lesson of Bereishit (Beginnings) as put so eloquently by Elie Wiesel: "God gave Adam a secret—and that secret was not how to begin, but how to begin again."