1. Read a simple creation story from a children’s Bible, or for older readers from the Jewish Publication Society Tanach (available at most bookstores).
If you prefer not to read the whole text, below is a very basic outline.
Note that God creates by speaking. For example, God says “let there be light” and there is light. Or, God says “let the waters bring swarming creatures” and there are. Thus, a simple speech act results in creation each day.
- God began to create the heaven and the earth.
- On the first day, God created light and darkness, and separated them.
- On the second day, God separated the space between the waters above and the waters below, and God called this sky.
- On the third day, God separated the dry land (which God called land) from the waters (which God called sea). God also said “let the land sprout trees and fruit.” And it happened.
- On the fourth day, God created two great lights to separate day from night (the sun and the moon).
- On the fifth day, God created creatures of the sea and birds of the sky.
- On the sixth day, God created animals of many kinds. Then, God created the first person, Adam.
- On the seventh day, God rested from all the work God had done.
Questions to ponder:
- Why is this story in the Bible? Probably because it was a great way to explain how the world came into existence. Without the resources of modern science, people could not explain how the environment, people, and animals came into being. Cultures compose vibrant creation narratives to try to explain what they do not understand.
- Is this how the world was born?
What other ways might the world have come into existence? Big Bang? Evolution?
- Emphasize that the Earth is still evolving and forming. For example volcanoes spew lava that helps shape the earth.
- How else does the Earth evolve? Humanity is changing nature for its own purposes. For example, rainforests in South America are smaller than they used to be. Many animals are losing their homes as more buildings are being built in previously wooded areas. Try to think of land, parks, neighborhoods, or playgrounds that have changed over the last few years. Everything continues to change and evolve – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
- Even though we don’t view the events in this story as historical, they do suggest an important theme: nature. Part of being Jewish involves understanding that we must try and live in harmony with the Earth. If the planet sustains us, do we have a responsibility to try and help it sustain us and to not exploit it by interfering too much?
2. Just as the world evolves, so do human beings evolve morally. We try to be better people, and one of the ways we can do that is to apologize.
In Judaism, that is called teshuvah (repentance). At the Jewish New Year, we look back on our year, think about the things we have done wrong or the things we are not proud of, and we try to correct them.
The key to teshuvah (repentance) is to recognize what you have done wrong, say “I am sorry,” and then promise that we will not do it again.
Discuss three things you are proud of that you did over the past year, and three things you are not proud of having done. You may want to write these down, put the paper away for a month (or even a year!) and then look and see if you have improved your behavior.