Parshat Bereshit and Noach
For some existential reason we like to pinpoint periods of time easily divided and multiplied into meaningful round units that we can easily commit to memory. This allows us to identify certain thought and ideas with a certain time and place. How do I know giving is good? Because I have a positive memory associated with giving. However, the subjective nature of the passage of time means that only significantly extraordinary periods are remember as the future unfolds. And yet unbeknownst to us, significant things are happening all around us. Events and stimuli that either never reach us, or are mistakenly grouped into the ordinary, fail to embed themselves in our memories and by extension in our derived meaning. People are the accumulation of experiences, friendships the addition of shared experiences. However, many of these experiences are forgotten. Fantastical memories become symbolic of whole stretches of time. And so, I am depressed with the thought that most of my memories that I have made with people are in fact forgotten and what stands are merely symbols.
In a paper that I read about how couples remember experiences, it was suggested that the collective memory of couples encapsulates the meaningful experiences each member. Each party commits different experiences to memory, knowing that ‘loose’ memories are caught and stored by the other. The shared memory of a couple manages to capture the plurality of the meaningful experiences. It is only through the Other that one attains the full power of memory. And so, reminiscing becomes hard when you become one.
We have finally reached Bereshit, a natural point in the cycle for the human mind to take notes. It is because of its location that it has come to mean something. Something unique. So unique I initially considered writing a choose-your-own-adventure dvar torah based on your approach to this fine Parasha (a luxury I do not have one week before exams). The text of Bereshit is rich and mysterious, fertile soil for deriving meaning. Its results are many, and so we are often faced with tough questions pertaining to our own derived meanings. Meanings that demand consistency where we may be unable to do so. Meanings that can only truly be appreciated by engaging with the other derived meanings. Whether you be critical of the text, in awe of the text, reverent of the text etc. it is only possible to fully engage with the text when you engage with others in a joint experience. Not like minded people, but a plurality of people with an infinite number of interpretations and extrapolations.
We are all bound to be drawn in by this week’s parsha, but we are also likely to use our past experiences to derive artificial meaning in the present. Rather, we should attempt to break free from memory and let ourselves investigate Bereshit with wonder. A wonder which stems from curiosity; the insatiable questions that can only be explored when we engage in the world of collective meaning. For if we fail to engage in the plurality of meanings we become out of touch, a shadow of a person and we are left merely holding a piece of a puzzle with thousands of pieces. If we want to ensure that we miss nothing and break free of the fallacy of memory, we must treat everything as extraordinary so that Life is seared into our minds. Not as a representational memory but as a continuous film of wonder.