Parshat Bereishit: Connecting Between Sacred and Profane
Rabbi Kenneth Brander
As we begin reading the Torah anew and are reintroduced to the story of Creation, one seemingly trivial point often goes unnoticed: the fact that humankind is conceived and born specifically on “yom vav” – the sixth day of Creation.
Perhaps reflecting the very essence of the human condition, the Hebrew letter vav is used as a conjunction – a connector of ideas and thoughts. As such, we – the products of “yom vav” – have the Divine mission of being “human connectors,” for our role in society is to serve as the hinge that connects and integrates the physical with the spiritual, achieving wholeness by merging the transcendent and the ordinary. Through our actions, we lend sanctity to the mundane and provide a platform for the sacred to be realized in the physical world.
We do not accept the bifurcation of these two paradigms, nor that the ethereal and the mundane are to remain forever separate from one another. Rather, shleimut, wholeness, is achieved in the synthesis of the “other-worldly” with the “everyday.”
The symbolic impact of the letter vav is further expressed in our mystical literature, in a discussion of the aftermath of the tragic story of the murder of Hevel by his brother Kayin. The Torah relates “And God placed a mark (‘ot‘) on Kayin’s forehead,” which the Sages of the Zohar understood as none other than the letter vav. As Kayin traveled from place to place, the vav served as an announcement for all to see that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Kayin was forced to articulate to all that we do not aspire to a Robinson Crusoe existence; we, who were created on yom vav, are intended according to the Divine plan to serve as vavei hachibur: spiritual connectors.
It is also for this reason that the Shulchan Aruch (Laws of Sefer Torah: 273) cites a custom for scribes to write Torah scrolls in which every column begins with the letter vav. This custom is inspired by the recognition that the Torah is the road map through which we are guided on how to merge the sacred and the everyday, with great emphasis being placed on our concern for one another, both Jew and Gentile alike.
Of further interest is a gloss recorded in the Midrash concerning the word used in Rabbi Meir’s Torah scroll to describe the “material” from which God fashioned Adam and Eve’s protective clothing. It was not from “animal hides,” (Hebrew עור, or, with an ayin), as is found in our Torahs, but rather a homonym, the Hebrew אור, or, with an aleph, meaning Divine light. According to Rav Meir, the clothing provided by God was not simply intended to protect Adam and Eve from physical ailments; rather, He intended the progeny of yom vav to be protected by clothing that was woven of spiritual light. Indeed, spiritual clothing would be needed to overcome the vicissitudes of life without abandoning our mission of connecting heaven and earth.
This understanding was especially real for Rabbi Meir, who witnessed his two great teachers – Elisha ben Havuya and Rabbi Akiva – as one succeeded and the other failed in the goal of being human connectors. Tragically, Elisha ben Havuya became a collaborator with the Roman government, willing to trade the transcendent for the comforts and safety of the Roman legion. By contrast, even until his last dying breath, Rabbi Akiva celebrated the ideal of being a creation of the sixth day.
As we begin the cycle of Torah reading once again this week, let us study with a renewed focus on finding weekly textual reminders of what it truly means to synthesize the sacred and the profane. In this way, we will surely succeed in our mandate as the blessed progeny of yom vav, the sixth day.