This Shabbat we begin our annual cycle of reading the Torah. The Torah begins with the creation of the Universe and of all life on Earth–in other words a universal message.
Our sages were intrigued by this. Rashi (12th Century Germany) wondered why the Torah did not begin with the first mitzvah or commandment. He suggested that the Torah begins with Creation to establish the Jewish people’s place in the world.
Another possible reason is that our Torah begins not with the particular history of the Jewish people, which begins with Abraham, but with Creation, is to reinforce the universal Jewish message or the reality and centrality of God, that all life begins with Divine intention, and as a reminder that all life existence, here on Earth and throughout the Universe is interconnected.
In other words, the Torah begins with a message of absolute unity. That everything is one, as we say in Shema.
We feel separated from others, but that is an illusion; ultimately, we are all part of a great whole. What happens to one of us, happens to all of us.
This is the universalist moral message of Judaism. With the High Holy Days behind us, seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and our nation so divided, this is a message that all of us should heed.