In Judaism, we read the Torah cyclically over and over again every year. Each week gets its own chapter, its own parsha. There is an idea in some branches of Judaism that the parsha of your birth week impacts you as a person. In this way, it is the chapters of our holy book that mark our time, that mysteriously predict things about us instead of the stars or a system of astrology. Orthodox families will often name their children based on the parsha of their birth week, like my cousin Mainoah, named for the “waters of Noah,” the centerpiece of the chapter of the Torah read during the week she was born.
The parsha of my birth week, which was also the parsha of my Bat Mitzvah, was Beresheet, the very first chapter of the Torah, which opens like this:
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ… וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם
In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth… and the spirit of G-d swept over the face of the water.
I like the reassuring power of the idea that this parsha has something to say about my life and where it will go. That there is something beyond me working behind the scenes, weaving me into a web of forces that are greater than me. That because of the time I was born, I will have a special connection to water as a place to find G-d.
At home in Milwaukee, my friends and I call the Lake Mama Mich. When we are away we miss it more than almost anything else, and when we are home, we love to get up early when it is still cold and dawn, and watch the sunrise over the Lake. When we first get down to the beach, the sky is a gentle purple and the sun still sleeps under the water. We sit still and quiet on the pebbles on the shore, and we watch and we wait. It is here that I feel the power of G-d more than anywhere else.
Then all of a sudden, the sun breaks through the water, poking its head out of the waves, fiery and orange against Lake Michigan’s blue. It casts a trail of light on the water like liquid gold, the brush strokes of an impressionist painting over the waves.
One morning last summer after sunrise, my friend Emma, who is deeply Catholic, starts telling me about a new idea she has just learned about her faith—that G-d created not one, but two holy books. One, written on paper, is the Bible, and the other is the Earth itself. The idea, she tells me, is rooted in the story of Saint Anthony, an early Christian ascetic who lived in a cave in the desert and paved the way for generations of Christian monks.
Once, a philosopher came to Saint Anthony’s cave and asked him, “How can you get close to G-d? How can you become holy, when you live in this cave where there are no books, and no Bible?” Saint Anthony sat back on his heels and smiled and responded simply, “Because G-d did not just create one holy book. My book is the nature of created things, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of G-d, they are at my hand.”
I love this idea and ever since that morning in the summer, I have latched onto it. If G-d created two holy books, then as much as I can learn from the Torah, I can learn from the Earth. As much as I can get out of reading Parashat Beresheet, I can receive sitting quietly by Lake Michigan and observing this majestic thing that G-d created. This is my connection to the water and the Lake that I feel in my bones. This is the spirit of G-d over the water from Parashat Beresheet, and this is the synthesis of G-d’s two holy books.
Question: How does this idea strike you, the idea of G-d’s two holy books? How have you connected experiences of beauty or fullness in the world with your ideas about religion and spirituality, whether they come from a holy book or elsewhere?